Gerry Thornley: As injuries mount before the World Cup, rugby needs to look after its battered warriors

Cian Healy not alone in falling victim to injury in warm-up games, with the likes of Anthony Watson, Romain Ntamack and Tommaso Menoncello missing out

Much like rainy Irish summers, the injury-related shattering of World Cup dreams has always been with us. Nor are Ireland immune from such disappointments, and as with Cian Healy last weekend, so it was with Geordan Murphy in 2003, David Wallace and Felix Jones in 2011, and Tommy O’Donnell.

World Cup have been cruelly cut short too, be it Jerry Flannery in 2011, Jared Payne in 2015 and Jack Conan four years ago, to name but a few.

However, judging by the list of those deemed hors de combat for France 2023, the problem has never been more acute.

Romain Ntamack has been the most high-profile casualty of the necessary evil that are warm-up matches, when the decorated former Under-20 World Cup winner was ruled out a home World Cup at the age of 24 after rupturing his ACL against Scotland in their 30-27 win at Saint Etienne.


In his stead, Matthieu Jalibert was dispensing try assists and kisses to team-mates in equal measure against Australia in Stade de France last Sunday, which has helped to softened the blow for the hosts. Ala Dan Carter in 2011, Ntamack also has time on his side to play in future World Cups, but even so this was a once-in-a-career opportunity.

No less than Cian Healy cursing his ill-fortune as he faced the sudden reality that his dream of a fourth World Cup was in all probability over, there have been few more distressing sights in the warm-up games that a tearful Tommaso Menoncello facing up to the same fate when injuring his shoulder against Ireland.

As if being in the same pool as France and New Zealand wasn’t enough, the Azzurri have since lost Edoardo Padovani, Leandro Marin and Gianmarco Lucchesi as well through injury.

Ireland appear, touch wood, to have escaped relatively lightly – even if Healy’s injury appears particularly cruel.

Their opening opponents, Romania, have already lost captain and backrow centurion Mihai Macovei (torn calf), 20-year-old outhalf Mihai Muresan (dislocated shoulder) and outside back Paul Popoaia (shoulder).

Tonga, Ireland’s second opponents, will be without the former Wallabies outside back Israel Folau (knee) and fellow winger/fullback Telusa Veainu (hamstring), while there are also concerns over the former All Blacks, Ulster and Bristol full-back Charles Piutau.

A trio of World Cup winners with the Springboks, who are Ireland’s third opponents, have been ruled out of the Jacques Nienaber’s initial squad – Handre Pollard and Lukhanyo Am are injured while Lood de Jager missed out with minor heart condition. By comparison, Scotland are one of the few to have avoided injuries.

English scrumhalf Jack van Poortvliet injured his ankle in their sole warm-up win, at home to Wales, and winger Anthony Watson has also been ruled out of the World Cup after picking up a calf injury in their loss to Ireland.

Wales captain Ken Owens has been ruled out of the tournament with a back injury, while Sevu Reece and George Bower are the two notable absentees for the All Blacks.

The Wallabies duo of Len Ikitau and Allan Alaalatoa – likely starters insomuch as anyone falls into that category under Eddie Jones – have also been victims of the warm-up games. Argentina’s loosehead Ignacio Calles ruptured his Achilles and is out of the tournament too.

Not only is this, first and foremost, a cruel blow for all the players concerned, but the 2023 World Cup is the poorer for their absence. Maybe it’s the normal toll which the game has exacted in the professional era, but it does feel excessive.

Medical science keeps progressing and improving. And hence there are good stories too, such as the Springboks captain Siya Kolisi returning so impressively in their warm-up games after undergoing knee ligament surgery less than four months ago.

However, amid the sometimes conflicting conclusion of independent disciplinary committees and 7-1 splits on the bench, more than ever it seems rugby need to look after its battered warriors.