30 December 2004
Leicester Tigers were left licking their wounds after Monday's 50-7 Zurich Premiership victory over Worcester Warriors. Tigers - who top the standings by a massive nine-point margin over defending champions London Wasps - travel to Kingsholm on Sunday, January, 2, 2005, to face Gloucester in their next ZP encounter, but a few troublesome injuries will force head coach John Wells into making some personnel changes.
Top of the injury list is Fijian star Seru Rabeni, who made his return against Worcester after a six-week lay-off, only to re-injure his knee after just 12 minutes in a freak incident. Rabeni, who damaged his knee for the first time against Worcester on November 13, is still the top try-scorer in the Zurich Premiership despite his recent inactivity.
"It would appear that it could be a six-week affair; Seru's aggravated the same knee he injured some time ago," said Wells. "It was quite innocuous, we've watched it in slow-motion, on video, and it appears as if he made contact with one of the Worcester lads in mid-air. There's nothing else to say about it really; if he's back before then, good, if not, the worst-case scenario is six weeks.
"Seru has no ACL on that particular knee, so his knee has reduced stability in any event. As you're aware, he's had a number of injuries since joining us, but he's been able to manage them, until, all of a sudden, his body broke down so to speak. He came back and despite training well something quite innocent happened. It could easily have happened to anybody else, it just happened to a guy on his weak knee."
Next on the injury list is loosehead prop Graham Rowntree, who left the field against Worcester in the 20th minute, and back row Brett Deacon, who, cruelly, picked up a hamstring injury, despite spending just a few minutes on the field against the Warriors.
Said Wells: "I'm not expecting either of them to be fit for this weekend. Graham's been carrying a back injury of some sorts for the past few weeks, but he's been able to manage it. It got too bad for him at the weekend, so rather than make it worse, he came off and we kept him off. Brett Deacon was just a little bit unlucky; he warmed up, sat down, warmed up again, went on and strained his hamstring. It's not a serious injury, but we're hoping that while he won't be fit for this weekend he should be okay for the Biarritz game, if required. If not, he should be ready for Calvisano."
But even without Rowntree, who earned a recall to the England squad in November after a string of impressive showings for Leicester this season, Tigers' scrum still performed superbly against Worcester.
"There's no doubt about, I'm very lucky to have three of the best scrummaging props in the United Kingdom," said Wells. "I'm very fortunate that even though I've lost Graham Rowntree, I can still bring in Darren Morris, who did a great job against a good prop, it has to be said, on Monday. Let's not take anything away from that Worcester scrum, they have destroyed a lot of scrums over the last few weeks, so despite their relatively low league position, they've actually got a good line-out and a good scrum and I thought we did pretty well in both those areas."
Whilst wings Austin Healey (back/hamstring) and Tom Varndell (illness) and flanker Lewis Moody (hand) were forced to withdraw shortly before kick-off against Worcester, Tigers received a welcome shot in the arm when utility backs Dan Hipkiss and Matt Cornwell came off the bench in the 12th and 52nd minutes respectively. Also, centre-cum-wing Leon Lloyd, who was rested against the Warriors, should come into the equation against the Cherry and Whites.
"Leon should be available for selection this weekend. The whole idea around resting him was to give him a few days to rest his knee," said Wells. "It's been great having him playing again, but whenever he comes off his knee tends to get a bit swollen. Tom Varndell and Lewis Moody should be available and so will Ollie Smith, who left the field when his hamstrings tightened up.
"We've had plusses and minuses over the last four or five weeks, haven't we? We've had guys who have just started to come back from long or longish injuries and we've had guys who have just been re-injured or aggravated old injuries. That's the nature of professional sport, but I'm lucky to have a number of guys who are more than capable and competent of stepping in and doing a great job."
The news on powerhouse No.8 Henry Tuilagi, meanwhile, is not too promising at this stage. Tuilagi, the scourge of many defences this season, has been out of action since Leicester's 21-9 win over Saracens on November 27.
"We've got to be very careful here, because Henry suffered a very acute injury to his pelvic region. It's very similar to what Freddie had a few years ago and he ended up missing virtually the entire season," explained Wells. "We don't expect him to be out for as long, he is making steady progress, but he could still be out for a few weeks. Whether that's two weeks or six weeks is up to Henry and the physiotherapists."
And looking ahead to Tigers' clash in the New Year, against Gloucester, Wells added: "We've got them at the most difficult time. They've had an up-and-down time, during the autumn internationals, they were well-beaten by Wasps in the second half, and they beat us up here, albeit on the back of a couple of fortunate decisions, although they were the better team on the day. They've had a mixed bag over the past few weeks, but they know that if they fall away from us this weekend, it puts them 19 or 20 points behind us."
Tigers' record at Kingsholm is not the best; having played 92 times in front of the Shed, winning just 21 and losing 71. In all, Leicester and Gloucester have met on 190 occasions, with the former winning 85, to Gloucester's 99. Six matches have been drawn.
"Gloucester don't get beat at home very often," said Wells. "I know Wasps won there in the autumn period, but that's the only time that I can remember in the last two or three years that they've been turned over there. They fancied their chances against Stade Fran�ais there during the Heineken Cup and they'll fancy their chances up there against us."
Wells is expected to announce his team, to face Gloucester, on Thursday, December 30.