Just when England could have used a clear run on the injury front ahead of this weekend's Six Nations meeting with Ireland at Croke Park in Dublin, they found themselves on the wrong end of two helpings of bad news.
The first wham of the double whammy concerned Steve Thompson, the Northampton hooker, whose neck injury requires surgery that will prevent him playing in this autumn's World Cup. The second, more immediate problem, concerned Jason Robinson, who damaged his own neck in training yesterday.
Dave Strettle, the uncapped Harlequins wing who has scored nine tries in 14 outings this term and impressed many with his recent contribution at England second-string level, was called into the squad as cover. This was something of a shock, given the fitness of Mark Cueto. The Sale wing put a try past Wasps last weekend and must have considered himself next in line, given the amount of Test rugby he has played over the last three seasons.
Brian Ashton, the head coach, has the option of playing Mathew Tait, an outside-centre, on the wing if Robinson pulls out. However, he likes the look of Strettle. "He has good footwork, a quick brain and a useful hand-off," Ashton said yesterday. "I've seen him score what I call rugby league-style tries, the kind you don't often see in union." The 23-year-old sevens specialist is an automatic first choice at Quins, whom he joined from Rotherham at the end of last season.
If Robinson may yet be declared fit to play on Saturday evening - the former captain is due to be reassessed by the medical team today - the bulletin on Thompson was thoroughly depressing. Plagued by neck trouble for some time, the World Cup-winning front-rower has suffered a loss of feeling in his arm and has not featured since the Heineken Cup game between Northampton and Biarritz at Franklin's Gardens a month ago. Yesterday, the club said there was no prospect of him playing until mid-autumn.
As a result, England will go into the tournament in France lighter in the scrum than they would have hoped. George Chuter and Lee Mears, the current hookers, have their virtues but neither is as potent as a fully-fit Thompson. If there is a silver lining to this particular cloud, it is that Northampton's back-up, the 20-year-old national academy graduate Dylan Hartley, can expect a lengthy run of first-team rugby. Hartley may well be the most gifted hooker of his generation.
The Gloucester head coach, Dean Ryan, has been charged with two offences of abusing a referee and will appear before a disciplinary tribunal in Bristol on 1 March. Ryan reacted to decisions by Rob Debney that he claimed were directly responsible for his side's Premiership defeat at Saracens on Sunday.
Leicester have confirmed the signing of the outsized Wasps centre Ayoola Erinle for next season. Erinle, somewhat injury-prone this term, is leaving his current club by mutual agreement following their signing of Riki Flutey from London Irish.