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'Just bad luck': Raffi Quirke and Sale teammate add to England's injury list

By Chris Jones
Raffi Quirke of Sale Sharks during the Investec Champions Cup match between Sale Sharks and Stade Francais Paris at AJ Bell Stadium on December 10, 2023 in Salford, England. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

Sale Sharks scrum-half Raffi Quirke has suffered another significant injury which will stop him pressing for England selection this upcoming Six Nations, while there is also bad news about England prop Bevan Rodd’s big toe injury.

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Quirke’s England career was interrupted by a torn-at-the-tendon hamstring injury last year which required an operation, and this season has seen him sidelined by a broken jaw. Now he is out again for up to six weeks after suffering a foot injury in the Investec Champions Cup loss to Leinster in Dublin. Despite initially appearing to be an innocuous problem, a scan revealed ligament damage.

Rodd has also been told his broken big toe could now require an operation to repair a tendon, removing another key player from the Sale squad and England’s Six Nations build-up.

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Quirke broke into the England squad under Eddie Jones, the former head coach, and made his debut as a replacement for Ben Youngs against Australia in 2021, becoming the youngest scrum-half since Nick Duncombe to wear the England No9 jersey. He came off the bench again in the match with South Africa, showing his pace with the winning try in a 27-26 victory at Twickenham.

Given the number of significant injuries, there are questions about the way Quirke throws himself into contact and Alex Sanderson, the Sale Sharks director of rugby, admits he may have to examine the youngster’s decision-making in terms of taking contact.

Sanderson, who is preparing Premiership leaders Sale for their clash with defending champions Saracens on Friday night at the AJ Bell Stadium, was hoping to have Quirke in his squad to attempt a revenge mission against the Londoners who won the Premiership final between the teams last season.

Sanderson said: “Raffi was walking around the bar we found at the airport after the Leinster game with no (medical) boot and we are thinking that it is ok without any swelling and back in a week. Then I got a call on Monday afternoon saying he sprained three ligaments or tendons which is another blow on top of all that has gone before. I feel really sorry for the lad. There are no consistent injuries here; hamstring, wrist, jaw and now foot.

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“It is just bad luck on bad luck and the injury means four to six week and we will review it on a regular basis to see if we can get him back before that. The way he plays makes him such a good player and I don’t know if you can pull him back. I am hoping in time he will get better in terms of decision-making about when to go for a gap and we have talked about him not sticking his head in rucks. I struggle to pull someone back but looking at the string of injuries then it is worth a conversation and I will address it in a couple of weeks. He is just very powerful and maybe overly physical for his size and leads to him picking up all of these injuries. I would rather make him more robust rather than take away his x-factor.

“Bevan has had another scan and it will be bit longer. He may need an operation to reattach a ligament in his toe and what we thought was a broken toe is now a ligament which enables him to push off. We may not see him for a few weeks.”

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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