Austin Healey, aka the Leicester Lip, has been unusually quiet this season, largely because he has been confined to the sound-proofed surroundings of the Welford Road physiotherapy department for much of the campaign. Those supporters who grew used to the peace and tranquillity can expect another period of repose, for Healey may miss what little is left of the Premiership run-in – and, quite possibly, England's summer Tests in New Zealand and Australia – after damaging his knee during his side's Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat by Munster on Sunday.
The 29-year-old utility back was scheduled to undergo exploratory surgery in Leicester today. Dean Richards, his director of rugby, was reluctant to offer any assessment of the extent of the problem, but there were clear indications that Healey might be facing another significant spell of inactivity.
That would be catastrophic indeed. Injury problems denied him a run in any of England's eight internationals between the beginning of November and the end of last month, and although his versatility would be valuable come World Cup time in Australia this autumn, Clive Woodward and the rest of the red rose hierarchy will not consider including a semi-invalid in their 30-man party. Healey can just about afford to miss the summer trek, provided he makes the warm-up Tests against Wales and France in late August. As things stand – or, in his case, do not stand – there is no guarantee of him doing anything of the sort.
Another Leicester player, the No 8 Will Johnson, will definitely miss the rest of the season after damaging knee ligaments during the Munster tie. The Tigers, who are chasing a top-four Premiership finish as their likeliest means of qualifying for the 2003-04 Heineken, have the likes of Martin Corry and Adam Balding available and will not lose too much sleep over Johnson's misfortune. But with the outstanding Lewis Moody already out of commission, another back-row injury might leave them exposed.
Newcastle, who would swap their own problems for Leicester's any day of the week, are waiting anxiously for news of Mark Andrews, the World Cup-winning South African lock who has single-handedly transformed their fortunes since arriving on Tyneside after Christmas. Andrews is suffering from a suspected broken rib – an injury that forced him from the field in the agonisingly narrow defeat at Gloucester on Saturday. With big relegation struggles against Saracens and Bath scheduled for early May, Newcastle need him back sooner rather than later.
Over in Wales, the restructuring of the domestic game is gathering pace. Gareth Jenkins, Mike Ruddock, Lynn Howells, Lyn Jones and David Young have been confirmed as front-line professional coaches for next season's Celtic League and Heineken Cup tournaments following interviews and assessments by a four-man panel headed up by Steve Hansen, the national coach, and Terry Cobner, the union's director of rugby. Jenkins will remain with Llanelli and Young with Cardiff. Howells will take charge of the new Bridgend-Pontypridd regional side, while Jones has been appointed to the Neath-Swansea combination. Ruddock, the former Wales A coach, has beaten Leigh Jones to the Newport-Ebbw Vale job.
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