Beyond the Lawes
Gail Davis says Saints can still have high Heineken Cup hopes even without injury victim Courtney Lawes.
Last Updated: 13/01/11 7:00pm
By Sunday evening the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup will be that little bit clearer after a weekend that will go some way to defining many clubs' seasons.
Ulster have been brilliant so far but they could find their European dream ended by Biarritz.
The Scarlets have played some wonderful attacking rugby and sit top of Pool 5 yet with Leicester in town their last-eight hopes are still far from certain and if the Tigers don't win in Wales, the club so successful in this competition in the past could be out at the group stages.
Other former winners Leinster, Toulouse and Wasps all have intriguing match-ups not to mention the star-studded clash between Toulon and Munster. We should be in for a fascinating few days.
Kicking it off on Friday is the side that could be the first to book a quarter-final spot - Northampton - but they will have to do it without Courtney Lawes.
It's not just a huge blow for the Saints but, of course, England too.
After a wonderful autumn when Lawes helped inject some youthful enthusiasm and excitement into the England team, the Northampton player's knee injury looks likely to see him miss most of the 6 Nations.
It means the England Manager Martin Johnson is left with the not-so-dynamic options of Louis Deacon, Simon Shaw and possibly Steve Borthwick to partner Tom Palmer.
When you add Tom Croft's injury to the mix, Dylan Hartley's wayward throwing in recent weeks, the conundrum that is England's centre combination and the slow starts England have made to recent games and suddenly the Australia victory feels a distant memory and the Wales game a little worrying.
The England Management decided this week that they there is enough Elite talent in their ranks to overlook Leicester's teenager Manu Tuilagi.
That's not pleased everyone this week - just take a look at Dewi Morris' blog - but whilst Manu hasn't even been named in the Saxons I would be amazed if he didn't get some game time with Stuart Lancaster's side over the coming months.
By naming the 19-year-old in the U20s, England have the option of playing Manu more because the U20s have a 6 Nations tournament whereas the Saxons only have two games scheduled.
One coach who knows a lot more about this sort of thing than me said to me this week when I asked him why he though the Samoan-born centre had been overlooked "did you see Ben Foden's try against Leicester last week? Who was at fault?"
"He cut straight through Alesana Tuilagi and Geordan Murphy." Not the correct answer, apparently; a few phases back and a couple of inexperienced errors from Manu were to blame.
I did make the point that even Mike Tindall made mistakes in the Autumn and he has over 50 caps and perhaps they should look at what Manu does rather than doesn't offer.
But they and others who have been discussing his omission this week have pointed to what happened to Mathew Tait on his debut in Cardiff in 2005 as a warning about throwing players in before they are ready.
I still believe Mr Morris will get his wish; I bet by the time the World Cup warm up games come around Manu is part of Johnson's set up.
It's been a busy week in the world of rugby transfers and perhaps the most interesting is Charlie Hodgson's decision to move to Saracens.
Rumour has it he had the choice of Sarries and Northampton and he chose last year's Premiership runners-up. He will of course renew acquaintances with his old Sale pal scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth.
Hodgson has been a great servant for Sale over the last decade and you have to wonder if Mike Brewer hadn't behaved so badly towards the fly-half in publicly criticising him this season whether he might have stayed.
It is a great piece of recruiting by Saracens; I doubt Hodgson will have any problems settling in, he is and always has been a real team player, hard-working and without an ego, entirely different from Saracens early signing this season!!
Saracens will have another new face in their ranks on Wednesday when Matt Stevens returns to rugby after a two-year drugs ban.
Having watched how Gavin Henson has struggled to return to the rugby stage, you'd imagine Saracens won't make the same mistake twice and the prop will be slowly eased in.
Like Henson the media storm around Stevens is likely to be huge. He knows he has to win back the trust of everybody in the game after what happened at Bath so it's not only about when and how he is playing that is fascinating but the reaction he gets over the coming weeks and months from those that follow the game.
Finally big congratulations must go to Maggie Alphonsi.
On Monday night at the Rugby Writer's Dinner she followed in the footsteps of Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson and Lawrence Dallaglio by winning the Pat Marshall award.
Maggie fought off opposition from Richie McCaw and Victor Matfield and became the first woman to win the Pat Marshall award.
What a huge achievement from the woman nicknamed "the machine" who won a huge number of admirers during the Women's World Cup last year.
She is determined, hardworking, technically excellent and above all hugely likeable.