The head count has begun for Wales coach Warren Gatland who must survey the battlefield after four months of the rugby season and decide who is still standing and therefore available for the Six Nations. Not many is the short answer, says Robin Davey, who argues the lawmakers are still ignoring pointlessly dangerous areas of the sport.
New year – but same old story as injuries continue to pile up at international and regional/club level, with Wales particularly hard hit.
The national team look like heading into the penultimate Six Nations tournament before the World Cup with a team ravaged by injuries.
Lions captain Sam Warburton and Jonathan Davies – Lions player-of-the-series against the All Blacks last summer – have long since been ruled out of the competition.
And it’s been known for a while that Jake Ball and Taulupe Faletau will miss at least part of the Six Nation. But three more have fallen victim to the jinx over the Christmas/New year holiday period – Hallam Amos, Dan Lydiate and George North all going down.
The trio will almost certainly miss at least part of the Six Nations, meaning that Wales could go into the opener against Scotland at the Principality Stadium on February 3 without seven players, five of them front line.
At regional level it’s much the same story. Friday night’s derby between the Scarlets and the Dragons has been particularly hard hit with home side, the Scarlets, without many of their front line backs – Leigh Halfpenny, Jon Davies, Scott Williams, Johnny McNicholl, Gareth Davies and suspended Steff Evans all missing.
The Dragons are lacking most of their first choice pack, fielding reserve front and back rows and blooding yet another teenager in 18-year-old flanker Taine Basham.
As many as 25 players have been unavailable to Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman at various stages this season. Missing right now are Zane Kirchner, Tyler Morgan, Hallam Amos, Brok Harris, Leon Brown, Elliot Dee, Lewis Evans, Ollie Griffiths, Nic Cudd, Harri Keddie, James Thomas, Max Williams.
About the only bright spot is the return of Scarlets and Wales prop Samson Lee, recovered from his Achilles’ tendon injury and set to start against the Dragons.
Wales’ rivals don’t appear to be as badly affected going into the Six Nations, England without just Elliot Daly and Nathan Hughes, Billy Vunipola set to return, as is Stuart Hogg for Scotland, ominously for Wales. Ireland are without Jamie Heaslip and Jared Payne.
Nevertheless, it is an alarmingly high injury list taking its toll on the game in Wales in particular, with regional resources stretched to the limit and the emergence of academy players even more important to bolster those squads.
The relative impact on a nation with smaller playing resources will always be greater when you are robbed of half a dozen players.
Head Injury Assessments (HIA) are playing an increasing part in the game after a spate of concussion incidents, and rightly so with the game becoming ever more physical.
Dragons prop Leon Brown, who made his Wales debut in the autumn, is the latest to take an enforced spell out of the game, with no date set for his return.
So what can be done, if not to eliminate these injuries to at least reduce the number of victims?
While there has been an ongoing debate about the scrum and what to do about it given the turgid way this maligned set piece dominates the game, little has been said and even less done about the clear-out and the toll that it is taking on the body.
Far too often players on the fringes of a maul are taken out of the game by a charging opposition forward when they are actually playing no part in this particular phase.
Referees ought to clamp down heavily on this practice for an unguarded forward is in a vulnerable position and is frequently sent crashing to the turf with the accompanying risk of suffering a serious injury.
So if the lawmakers are serious about cleaning up the game and cutting down on the number of serious injuries blighting the game they must at least take a long, hard look at this area.