JOHN Fletcher last night described his devastation as a scan on Matt Burke’s left knee revealed ligament damage that will bring the former World Cup winner’s season to a premature end.
The Newcastle Falcons full-back left Kingston Park in pain at the weekend and, although the club’s medical team had hoped the problem Burke suffered during Sunday’s defeat against Bath would not prove as serious as was first feared, last night’s news could not have been much worse.
Having ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament, Burke has been told to expect to spend the next nine months recovering. Although the Falcons have negotiated only six Guinness Premiership fixtures, the 34-year-old has been told his campaign is over.
“We’re absolutely devastated by the news,” said Fletcher, the club’s director of rugby, who was last night examining his options ahead of this weekend’s trip to Gloucester.
“We’re obviously disappointed from a team point of view, but, more importantly, we’re devastated for Matt. He has made such an outstanding contribution to the club during his three years with us.
“After a period of time, we will sit down with Matt and see what he feels is the best course of action.
“But the advice from the medical team is that this injury carries a nine-month rehabilitation period which sadly means we will not see Matt play again this season.”
Burke was injured during Sunday’s second half against Bath and, with his knee too swollen to conduct a thorough examination, the influential Australian was forced to wait to undergo a scan.
Fletcher and his coaching staff kept their fingers crossed that the subsequent verdict might be more favourable than expected. But with the problem last night confirmed as a grade three tear, Burke’s absence will be long term.
His current contract finishes at the end of the season, but Newcastle would be more than happy to see him resume his playing career with them.
However, there will be no rush to make any decision. In his three years with the Falcons Burke has made 81 appearances, scoring 430 points including 26 tries.
This season alone had seen him score two tries and 38 points in his six outings. If he doesn’t play again, the question of a coaching role is sure to be raised.
But whether that would be at Kingston Park or back in Australia remains to be seen.
Both Toby Flood and Mathew Tait may be back in action this weekend for the Falcons – Flood is more likely to be involved in Saturday’s EDF Energy Cup-tie at Gloucester given the lack of rugby he’s had recently, but Tait’s involvement is more uncertain.
Tait was back in the North-East on Tuesday after a terrific showing in the World Cup final and he said: “It’s all still a bit surreal and I’m not sure that I have grasped the enormity of the whole thing.
“I know it’s a cliché, but there have been real highs and lows.
“Highs were winning the quarters and the semis and getting to the final.
“The lows obviously included the game against South Africa and it’s a credit to everyone that we came through all that and unfortunately we just couldn’t finish the job off.
“I’ve seen some pictures of the try – it’s one of those where you convince yourself that it is or isn’t, whichever way you are biased towards.
“You just have to accept it and get on with it. There’s no point in changing it, you just have to accept it and move on.
“We are obviously devastated not to have won but it’s been fantastic to have been with this group of guys, some of whom we might not see play for England again.
“I’ll be popping into the club to say hi to everyone and make the decision with them on when I’ll be back playing again.”