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Bath: Watson's 'freak' injury and 'nowhere to hide' Saracens loss

By Liam Heagney

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Bath boss Stuart Hooper has insisted last Sunday’s devastating ACL rupture sustained by Anthony Watson was a freak injury that can’t be attributed to the England winger returning to play for his club earlier than the length of break he was due to have after touring South Africa with the Lions. All England players who toured with Warren Gatland’s squad were entitled under a welfare agreement with th RFU, Premiership Rugby and the PRL to have a nine-week break in between games following the August 7 series ending Lions match versus the Springboks in Cape Town.  

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This would have resulted in all the touring England contingent not being available to play for their clubs until the weekend of October 16. However, the rule wasn’t arbitrary and it was left to the clubs, in conjunction with the relevant authorities, to bleed the players back into the club mix when they saw fit. 

Having not played in that final match with the Lions, it was decided that Watson could play again for Bath off the bench in their October 1 derby loss to Bristol. Having then had a bye week in the Premiership, the 27-year-old made his first start of the season in last Sunday’s hammering versus Saracens, an appearance that ended with him limping off with a serious injury shortly after the hour mark. 

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Eddie Jones’ media briefing after last Monday’s England squad announcement
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Eddie Jones’ media briefing after last Monday’s England squad announcement

It is now expected that Watson will miss a large chunk of the season, including the 2022 Six Nations campaign with England, before being ready to play again, but Bath boss Hooper was adamant the injury was not caused by the winger’s early return to playing following his Lions tour.

“It’s a question that will be asked but in all honesty, the mechanism of the injury is not something that is brought about by fatigue in any way, shape or form,” said Hooper at his club’s midweek media briefing. “He [Watson] was in great shape going into the game as he was the week before. It really is a freak moment which unfortunately could happen and has happened to lots of people before.

“The biggest thing now is it’s very tough for him. We’re looking after him the best we can. He has already had his scan, has already seen a specialist and now there is a plan in place but it’s a long-term knee injury which we have heard about many times before. Unfortunately, we see more of them but we have got people both here and abroad who are experts in dealing with that and getting the guys back. If I know one thing about Anthony it’s that he will be looking to break records with how quickly he can get back from it. We have got some direction now and although it is really tough news for him, he will be motivated to get back as quick as possible.

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“The injury is always termed as an ACL but when they [the surgeons] get in there and do the job there is a few different ways they can do it and a few different severities of it. When I say abroad, what we have used in the past, not for the operation stage but for the rehab stage, is we look at getting the best people.

“We have used people in Ireland previously who are world-leading in dealing with these knee injuries and they give some incredibly detailed guidance on the strength that is needed, the different movement patterns and that sort of stuff. My point is there will be no reason he [Watson] can’t see the very best people and we will make sure he gets seen by the best and has the best plan to get him back.”

Watson will certainly be missed by a struggling Bath team that has endured a terrible start to the new Premiership season, losing all four of their matches so far to leave them bottom of the table heading into next weekend’s away game versus Harlequins, the defending champions. Last Sunday’s 71-17 drubbing by Saracens has led to speculation about Hooper’s tenure but the director of rugby has been pleased by the reaction he has seen since Sunday’s damaging loss. 

“In that aspect, it has been strong. The senior players, the staff have taken responsibility. There is nowhere to hide from it, the result, the performance, and they have been impressive since the end of the game. We spoke about looking up and making sure we front into things we could have done better and get it out in the open and they have led well in that regard. 

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“We were poor, there is no part of our game in which we were good, and they [Saracens] are an outstanding team. They did play exceptionally well but we gave them opportunity after opportunity and invited them in and a team of that quality, they take their opportunities and burn you. 

“I expect a reaction. As a (former) player when you have been beaten and been beaten badly, you want to get back on the field as quickly as possible because it is an opportunity to go out and try and correct some of the things that went wrong. The players will be desperate to get back on the field, for sure.”

 

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Bath: Watson's 'freak' injury and 'nowhere to hide' Saracens loss

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