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By Neale Harvey
Sam Underhill’s season-ending toe injury is the latest hammer blow for Bath in a campaign that has become almost “impossible to manage”, according to Rec supremo Todd Blackadder.
Underhill was sent back to Bath after rupturing a tendon under his big toe on England duty last week, piling on the frustration for rugby director Blackadder, who admits attrition rates in the Premiership are unlike anything he experienced in charge of Super Rugby’s Crusaders.
Long-term injury victim Francois Louw has been ruled out for an additional four to five weeks with a groin strain, both first choice fly-halves Freddie Burns and Rhys Priestland are unavailable and star wing Semesa Rokoduguni is struggling after shoulder surgery in December.
With 20 members of Bath’s 48-strong first team squad suffering injuries and key men Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Toby Faletau on international duty, Blackadder, right, concedes he faces a battle to keep his side’s Premiership title ambitions afloat.
The former All Blacks flanker told The Rugby Paper: “There have been challenges around our consistency this season and I’ve questioned our mentality at times, but there are also major challenges around availability that have a massive impact.
“We did well to beat Sale recently but if you go through that team it was Beno Obano’s first start for weeks, Ross Batty and Henry Thomas were coming back from injury, and we’ve had the likes of Toby Faletau, Zach Mercer, Josh Bayliss, Matt Banahan struggling as well.
“The abnormal has become our normal and there are so many different constraints here in England because you go in and out of so many different competitions. When you’ve got internationals coming in and out as well, logistically it becomes difficult with the injury toll.
“Ball in play time has gone up, contacts have gone up and injuries are up as a result, so it has a massive impact on your preparation; you can have your 23 who are preparing for a match but at times you only have seven or eight players who can oppose them in training.
“Those things are just not ideal and there’s certainly a lot more to managing a squad here than you have to deal with in Super Rugby. At times it feels like it’s impossible to manage but then it’s a great challenge as well.”
With overlaps between domestic and international seasons impinging negatively on clubs, Blackadder revealed how he is being forced to sacrifice players like Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson for matches in the hope they will hit top form for the league run-in.
Both players struggled at the end of last season, potentially costing Bath a play-off place, but Blackadder explained:
“Season structure changes have been proposed but in the meantime we just live in the moment and Jonathan Joseph is a good example of our approach.
“He’s played a hell of a lot of rugby but we still managed to squeeze in three weeks off for him during the season just to make sure we’re not killing him.
“We’re trying to keep him fresh and not break him but again it’s very hard because of all his England commitments.”
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