Dave Craven: Pitching into argument over injuries and artificial surfaces

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Here is an early contender for Stobart Super League Press Release of the Year 2012 ...

In what was described as a ‘reactive’ press statement, Widnes Vikings unfurled this pearl of information this week.

“In relation to recent press speculation regarding the injury to Ben Kavanagh at the game against Salford on Sunday 19th February, the Widnes Vikings Medical Department confirms that the injury to Ben was an Achilles tendon rupture which occurred in a recognised mechanism for that injury following rapid dorsi flexion and plantar flexion of the ankle when pushing off to sprint.”

Just as I thought... I knew it was the old rapid dorsi flexion at the heart of that pesky Achilles problem. Of course, it is a real giveaway all things considered.

Mind-numbing technical jargon aside, a clearly aggrieved Widnes feel they had good reason for their barbed riposte.

It finished with the real crux of the matter: “The club wishes to state that this is an unfortunate injury but has no direct link to the performance of the pitch.”

Note there the reference to ‘pitch’. A few months ago, any such media memo would have been liberally sprinkled with references to “iPitch” their revolutionary artificial surface.

However, it is now much-maligned in many quarters and, essentially, this press release was Widnes’s way of defending their corner after it had taken plenty of criticism just three weeks into its Super League existence.

Wakefield’s Richard Mathers had already bemoaned the cuts he endured there on opening night, concerns compounded when not only Kavanagh but also team-mate Anthony Watts suffered likely season-ending injuries on its second usage.

Widnes are at pains to insist neither injury occurred because of the 4G surface. Rightly so.

It is more downright bad luck that the promoted side, still awaiting their first win, have seen two of their key players crocked so early.

They are not the only ones, though. England coach Steve McNamara will be glad the World Cup is next year and not this given the number of his potential players already struck down by serious injury.

Certainly, any promising back-row with international aspirations will be treading extra carefully this weekend.

Leeds Rhinos’ Jamie Jones-Buchanan, that epitome of English bulldog spirit and a Four Nations hit, limped out of the World Club Challenge and will be absent for three months. Likewise, England Knights captain Joe Westerman after the Hull loose-forward dislocated his shoulder scoring against London.

James Donaldson, whom McNamara signed for Bradford Bulls as a schoolboy fully believing the Cumbrian would become an England back-row, has endured his second knee cruciate injury in as many years.

Warrington’s Ben Harrison, who toured with England in 2010, ‘celebrates’ his 24th birthday today knowing he will likely miss the entire season after rupturing a cruciate himself at Huddersfield on Saturday.

Not a day seems to have passed this week without a diagnosis of someone else’s catastrophic injury. Bradford could be without England Knights scrum-half Luke Gale for the foreseeable future after he suffered ankle ligament damage in the loss against Wigan, the last thing they needed given the Harlequins signing was viewed as a cure to their long-term creative problem.

But injuries are simply unavoidable, whether on grass, plastic, sand or snow, and so, despite the best efforts of innumerable conditioners, sport scientists and physios to reduce chances of them occurring, they will be a certainty as long as the game is played.

We had the bizarre sight of Salford players donning tights at Widnes on Sunday to prevent grazing. Will newly-crowned World Club champions Leeds follow suit this weekend?

If they do, the remedy will barely scratch the surface of the real problem beneath.