Mike Tindall's serious liver problems, the direct result of on-field events during the Six Nations Championship match between England and Wales at Twickenham rather than off-field ones after it, have prevented him playing rugby for two months now. There is, however, a chance – quite a good chance, according to his head coach – that he will be back in the Gloucester mix for this weekend's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Munster at Kingsholm. "We lose something when we play without Mike, so if we can get him involved without too much risk, we'll do it," said Dean Ryan yesterday.
Risk is the overriding factor. Tindall's injury – the freak result of a sprawling collision with the boot of the Welsh wing Mark Jones – so alarmed Ryan in the early hours after diagnosis that the Big Bad Wolf of old wondered whether his senior centre would be seen again this season or, indeed, any other. But the World Cup-winning midfielder has been in training for the last three weeks, gradually increasing the intensity of his work to the point where he is now happy to take full contact.
"The situation was new ground for all of us," Ryan said. "Our medics even sought advice from those connected with sports where such injuries happen with some regularity: mountain biking, for instance.
"The thing with Mike is that he's one of those players who knows his own body. We certainly don't want to take a risk on him for the sake of one game, but if he can get past the medical check-through, he'll let us know if this match is right for him, or wrong. We want his experience, his thought processes, his input. Basically, I'm saying to him: 'Mike, you give us added value and I'd love it if you could play, so how do you feel?' "
It may be that Tindall will be named among the replacements, in which case James Simpson-Daniel is likely to partner Anthony Allen in midfield with Chris Paterson and Lesley Vainikolo on the wings and Olly Morgan at full-back. Iain Balshaw, heavily criticised for some of his Six Nations performances for England, is another contender for a starting place in the Gloucester back line, but there are concerns over his fitness.
Ryan has selection issues throughout the side, not least up front, where he must strike a balance between mobility and footballing skills on the one hand and old-fashioned "grunt" on the other. Andy Titterrell or Olivier Azam at hooker? Marco Bortolami or Peter Buxton at lock? Akapusi Qera or Andy Hazell on the open-side flank? If the coach gets these choices wrong, Munster will be a significant step closer to a seventh semi-final in nine years.
"I don't think it's secret that we prefer to have movement in a game, and that we struggle if people take it away from us," Ryan said. "With the attacking threat we have in our back division, we're not likely to go looking for a static contest.
"Yes, it's a difficult selection, especially in the back row where we have so many good players offering different things. But I'm tending towards picking a side capable of playing the kind of rugby we've been looking to play all season. To my mind, quarter-finals are not about getting to 12-all and praying for a last-minute penalty."
Gloucester have not done business like this in living memory. The game was sold out in hours, the main road outside the stadium is being pedestrianised for the day and black market tickets are now changing hands for a big-screen broadcast outside the stadium.Reuse content