The curse of wounded knee strikes Wales No6s

The Rugby Paper - - Premiership - PETER JACK­SON

When they hand the jer­seys out in the visi­tors’ dress­ing-room at the Stade de France for Wales’ next match, the No.6 ought to come with a spe­cial health warn­ing.

El­lis Jenk­ins’ cruel fate sec­onds from the end of the game of his life last week makes him the third oc­cu­pant of the num­ber to suf­fer a se­ri­ous knee in­jury in the last two years. It brings a whole new mean­ing to be­ing hit for six.

His two most im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors will know ex­actly how he feels.

Dan Ly­di­ate’s late with­drawal due to a spot of el­bow trou­ble gave Jenk­ins the chance to pro­duce a per­for­mance which would have made it very dif­fi­cult to have left him out of the start­ing XV in France for the open­ing round of the Six Na­tions on Fe­bru­ary 2.

In­stead Jenk­ins has been laid low by ex­actly the same knee in­jury that struck Ly­di­ate against the same op­po­nents on the same week­end two years ago. The Osprey flanker smashed the an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ments of his knee just be­fore half-time and had to be driven off on a mo­torised stretcher.

Jenk­ins, sub­jected to the same fate with the same se­ri­ous dam­age just be­fore the end of last week’s match, will al­ready have been ad­vised to write the rest of the sea­son off and con­cen­trate on mak­ing the start of next sea­son.

Ly­di­ate’s nine-month re­cov­ery left him fight­ing for his Test fu­ture. Wales put him in charge of a sec­ond-string team against Ge­or­gia last year half­way through an Au­tumn se­ries which fin­ished with Aaron Shin­gler the first-choice blind­side against the All Blacks the fol­low­ing week and the Spring­boks the week af­ter that.

Fur­ther surgery, on a dam­aged bi­cep, left Ly­di­ate no op­tion but to sit the Six Na­tions out in its en­tirety for the sec­ond sea­son run­ning. Shin­gler, mak­ing the most of an ex­tended run, re­turned to the Scar­lets for the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign as one of the stars of the tour­na­ment.

His sea­son, too, was to end in tears. Like Ly­di­ate be­fore him and Jenk­ins af­ter, Shin­gler is in the fi­nal throes of a long re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion from surgery to the knee he smashed on be­half of the Scar­lets dur­ing their abortive de­fence of the PRO14 ti­tle in the fi­nal against Le­in­ster last May.

Justin Tipuric hav­ing made Sam War­bur­ton’s spot on the open­side of the scrum his very own, Wales will ex­pect to have Taulupe Fale­tau fit enough to re­mind the rest that there is no­body quite like him as a No. 8 al­though Billy Vu­nipola would no doubt have some­thing to say about that.

The ques­tion then is over who gets the gig on the blind­side. That El­lis, a spe­cial­ist open­side, started there last week and fin­ished up spend­ing al­most the en­tire game at No. 8 for Ross Mo­ri­arty speaks vol­umes about his ver­sa­til­ity as a three-di­men­sional back row for­ward.

For­tu­nately, Wales have an­other in Josh Na­vidi. Their reign­ing player of the year has been con­spic­u­ous by his ab­sence this sea­son fol­low­ing re­pairs to a dis­lo­cated shoul­der. He is due to come off the crocked list along with an­other open­side, James Davies of the Scar­lets.

Never can one coun­try have been blessed by such an abun­dance of high­class back row op­er­a­tives as Wales. The youngest, 21-year-old Aaron Wain­wright from the Dragons, stepped into the blind­side breach against the Boks last week and did him­self and his coun­try proud.

The last four rounds of Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion and sev­eral do­mes­tic week­ends have to be ne­go­ti­ated be­fore War­ren Gat­land knows ex­actly who of his back row com­man­does will be fit and rar­ing to go when the squad re­assem­bles next month for the Six Na­tions.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Ver­sa­tile: Josh Na­vidi is on his way back

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