New Bath Rugby signing Rob Webber out until 2013
New Bath Rugby signing Rob Webber could be sidelined until the New Year after undergoing a second operation on the shoulder injury that has already kept him out of action since March.
The hooker – Bath's only member of the England Elite Player Squad – is among a handful of injured internationals who are unavailable for the club's Aviva Premiership opener in Worcester on Saturday.
Among those also out are Ireland lock Ryan Caldwell (knee), Kiwi World Cup winner Stephen Donald (Achilles) and rising English prospect Tom Heathcote (knee).
The good news for Bath is that the latter two, both of whom picked up knocks during pre-season, are not as seriously injured as initially feared and are expected to be back training inside a month.
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"Stephen's going to need some rehab but not an operation or be out for any extended period of time," said head coach Gary Gold.
"He'll be training in the next couple of weeks and we'll hopefully have him back available for selection in three or four weeks."
And there is more encouraging news from the treatment room, with full-back Nick Abendanon – who came off during last Friday's win over Cardiff Blues after receiving medical attention – declared fit to start the season.
But Webber's ongoing battle with his shoulder is of longer-term concern. The 26-year-old, who played 109 times for London Wasps before moving to The Rec, tore his rotator cuff muscle during England's Six Nations win over France.
After reporting to his new club in June, Webber told the Chronicle that he didn't anticipate his shoulder being "too much of an issue" going into the new campaign, but his hopes of being fit for the big kick-off have been dashed.
"Rob's had a second operation on his shoulder and we've got some other injuries," said Bath first-team coach Mike Ford. "But that's the nature of the game and it means a door can open for another player. You've just got to get on the horse."
The absentees mean Olly Barkley is likely to start at outside half at Worcester, with Sam Vesty on the bench.
Bath's 16-7 loss at Sixways last season represented one of the low points of the 2011-12 campaign but Ford says the preparations for the season's opener have been rigorous.
"We are preparing for this game as though our lives depend on it," he said.
The former England defence coach says he is wary of reading too much into Bath's unbeaten pre-season – or any club's pre-season hype.
"At this time of the year, every club can tend to say 'Yes, everyone's buzzing and can't wait to play, blah, blah, blah', but you never know until your first game – when it's for real," Ford said.
"It's nice to win your pre-season matches but you don't know where you stand until there are four points at stake."