Clive Woodward's worst fears were confirmed yesterday with the news that the Bath centre Mike Tindall will miss the whole of the Six Nations' Championship after suffering a serious injury against Saracens on Saturday. Tindall will undergo an operation to rebuild the ankle after an MRI scan revealed extensive ligament damage to the joint.
At first it had been thought that the 25-year-old Tindall had suffered a broken leg - a far less serious injury. An X-ray on Saturday night ruled that out, but yesterday's news that he had ruptured the three lateral ligaments in his right ankle means that he will be out for at least 12 weeks for rehabilitation and recovery and will therefore miss England's defence of their Grand Slam. Woodward must now find someone else to partner Will Greenwood in the centre.
"It is a great shame for Mike," the Bath head coach, John Connolly, said. "It looks as though he will be out for around 12 weeks, which means that he will certainly miss the Six Nations."
Tindall suffered the injury while scoring the opening try of another away win which maintained Bath's position at the top of the Premiership.
The fly-half, Olly Barkley, put a grubber kick behind the Saracens defence and Tindall powered through to the ball, but as he bent to scoop it up he was hit by a tackle and, according to Connolly, "when he pushed off the leg he knew he was in all kinds of trouble. But he did not let go of the ball until he had grounded it for the score".
That all happened in the 14th minute, and 20 minutes later another England man, the full-back, Matt Perry, who had missed out on a World Cup squad place but is starting to hit the sort of form that has earned him 36 Test caps, had to be helped off with a recurrence of a groin strain.
His departure means Bath have eight backs on the casualty list, including another World Cup hero in the centre Mike Catt, who has been suffering with a niggling hamstring that has been linked to a possible lower back problem. But Bath were still able to call on the services of Ireland's Kevin Maggs as a replacement for Tindall, and the promising youngster Alex Crockett for Perry.
With Barkley directing operations from No 10 and knocking over all of his kicks - three conversions and a penalty - and the forwards dominating the line-out in particular, Bath did enough for their sixth away win. But there was still a much-improved performance from Saracens, who displayed great character and were only just denied a bonus point after Thomas Castaignède scored a fine solo try in the 79th minute but had his conversion attempt charged down, and then saw a penalty slide tantalisingly wide of the right-hand post.
Saracens gave away a penalty try when Barkley slid another grubber behind the defence, only to be obstructed in the chase. It looked as if the ball would be impossible to reach before going dead and the Saracens coach, Rod Kafer, said as much: "I don't think even Superman could have got to the ball and touched it down. But I am not criticising the ref." But Superman would not have given away the penalty in the first place.
Saracens: Tries Bailey, Castaignède; Conversion Castaignède; Penalty Castaignède. Bath: Tries Tindall, Higgins, Penalty try; Conversions Barkley 3; Penalty Barkley.
Saracens: R Haughton (R Kydd, 50); D Cech, P Bailey, B Johnston, D O'Mahony; T Castaignède, K Bracken; S Sparks (E Bergamaschi, 68), R Ibanez (R Russell, 68), C Visagie, S Raiwalui (capt), A Codling (B Skirving, 80), K Chesney (T Roques, 71), T Randell, B Russell.
Bath: M Perry (A Crockett, 34); W Human, A Higgins, M Tindall (K Maggs, 15), S Danielli; O Barkley, M Wood; D Flatman, J Humphreys (L Mears, 55), D Bell (D Barnes, 77), S Borthwick, D Grewcock (capt; R Fidler, 73), A Beattie, I Feaunati, M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 73).
Referee: M Fox (Letchworth)
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