Bath Rugby’s back-row injury crisis may be finally starting to ease, but No. 8 Leroy Houston insists they were never tempted to hit the panic button at the Rec.
With long-term injuries to flankers Francois Louw and Matt Garvey exacerbated by Carl Fearns and Alafoti Fa’osiliva also picking up knocks, Houston has often been forced to lead a makeshift back row this year.
The 28-year-old has started all eight of his side’s Aviva Premiership Rugby matches this season to help Bath belie their injury problems with an impressive start to the campaign.
Mike Ford’s squad have since been boosted by the return of both Garvey and Fearns in the last two weeks as they prepare for a tough test against Harlequins on Friday night.
Yet Houston is adamant that the less familiar faces of Dave Sisi and Guy Mercer, as well as young talent Charlie Ewels, have played well enough to give Ford a selection headache for the rest of the season.
“It’s normally a real push for positions here but we’ve had a few injury problems,” he said. “But I’m sure there will be tough competition again with players coming back in.
“I haven’t been very happy with my own performances despite starting every game. It’s not the start I wanted but hopefully over the next month or so I can get my form back.
“It wasn’t tough despite our back-row injury problems because the young guys coming through have done the job really well and maintained our back-row mentality.
“Dave Sisi and Guy Mercer have been excellent and although the combinations might have been different, we got used to each other and played well together.
“Charlie Ewels showed great leadership already too – he might be a lock by trade but he looked good at flanker and I think you could even play him in the back line he’s that talented.”
Bath’s early season prowess has seen them establish a place in the top four and Houston admits his side are fully focused on maintaining the gap over the chasing pack.
And after the heartbreak of narrowly missing out on a play-off place to Quins last season, the New Zealand-born forward is all too aware of how any dropped points now could come back to haunt his side.
“We are in a good place but we don’t take where we are for granted as the top teams are still all around us,” he added.
“So we are pretty happy but know we have got to perform against the biggest teams to maintain where we stand at the moment.
“Keeping up this gap to the top four is huge for us, especially after last season, as one point can make all the difference in making the semi-finals.
“It’s a real aim to cement ourselves in the top four but we’re also looking beyond that and focusing on making the top two for now.
“There are a lot of teams that will be trying to pick up their game for an end of season run and we have to make sure we are there with them.”
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