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'Bit of a freak moment' has ruled Quirke out for Sale and England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Steve Bardens/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Up-and-coming scrum-half Raffi Quirke has been ruled out for the remainder of this season’s campaign with Sale and from the England tour of Australia with a torn-at-the-tendon hamstring injury that required an operation on Tuesday. A try-scorer in the November win over the Springboks, the 20-year-old was expected to travel in July as one of Eddie Jones’ three scrum-halves along with Ben Youngs and Harry Randall. 

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However, that half-back tour spot is now up for grabs as Quirke has been ruled out of action until late in the Sale pre-season for the 2022/23 campaign following an injury sustained earlier in April when trying to halt the breaking Semi Radradra in a Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 first leg tie at the AJ Bell.

It was hoped that Quirke would return to play a part in a season in which Sale are through to a European quarter-final versus Racing 92 and still retain the chance of making the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals for the second successive season. 

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The Breakdown | Episode 10 | Sky Sport NZ
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The Breakdown | Episode 10 | Sky Sport NZ

The Sharks, though, must now do without him for their end-of-season run-in and the prognosis is also disappointing news for England, who capped Quirke twice during the Autumn Nations Series and had him involved at training as their third choice scrum-half during the recent Guinness Six Nations.  

“He is having an operation today [Tuesday] so he will be out for right up until the latter stages of the pre-season,” reported Alex Sanderson, the Sale director of rugby, at his media briefing ahead of Friday’s Premiership match at home to Newcastle. 

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“It’s a 40 per cent tear in a ligament. The positives are that it is fixable with an operation because it is only a 40 per cent tear and he hasn’t got a thread with just 10 or 15 per cent of the ligament left. The surgeon is extremely confident that this is going to fix it and it is going to be right, that this will be good for it. 

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“Then it is going to come down to a couple of really important conversations with someone that young – how do we keep him on the field, someone that works so hard but almost too hard at times, how can we manage him, how can he create some self-awareness to manage himself so he becomes more robust moving forward because he is highly coiled, super-powerful, he just works until his legs pop as we have just seen.

“It was an end-of-range bio-mechanical injury at full stretch, at full pace trying to tackle Radradra on that half break. What we are saying is although it is a bit of a freak moment in the game bio-mechanically speaking and will probably never see it again, we need to make him robust enough to be able to do it and still be able to play on and at this point, it didn’t. 

“It just pinged and that is on us. We need to understand how we can make him stronger and longer, not just stronger and faster, stronger and longer in terms of his muscle length. We are onto it in terms of what we can do.”

The operation is the biggest setback yet in a breakthrough year for Quirke where his progress for Sale and England was tempered by injury and a concussion. “It’s his load management over the course of the season that has caused a few issues in and around his lower limb,” explained Sanderson. “The body can handle incremental change but big changes to load management for young athletes who are very powerfully built can have a dramatic effect, particularly if you combine that with the cognitive stress. 

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“Those two things are interlinked, the neural system can fire off and cause tightness and pre-fatigue in injury but they don’t recover as well if they are constantly stressed and he has been dipping in and out of different loads and different training environments all season. Therein lies the learning curve. 

“You have to have the strength and character and fortitude as well as the self-awareness to know what is right for you, what works for you moving forward and Raffi does everything to please everyone as much as he can all the time. That is his nature and his character and there is so much energy about him. That has been part of his downfall and the journey we have been on, what is right for him. I do believe we need to get that right for him to understand what is best. 

“He just found out he needs an operation about two or three days ago and yesterday [Monday], before going in, he was saying, ‘I am going to come back stronger, I am going to come back better’. He had already reframed it in his mind as an opportunity to physically be better and be more advanced in his skill set in the same way Tom Curry did when he got injured early on in his career, so he has got good mentors here in Manu (Tuilagi) and Tom.”

Mention of Curry, whose own hamstring issue versus Ireland prematurely ended his recent Six Nations campaign with England, he is available for this Friday’s latest Sale league outing. “Tom Curry is up for selection this week,” reported Sanderson. 

“It’s great. He won’t be playing his best rugby, he can’t be because he has been out for a while, but it took Manu about two minutes against Harlequins to be at his best when he came back so I am hoping the same for Tom if he is selected. He seems excited which is important.”

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