sport

McCall not risking Goode

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall refuses to take any risks with Alex Goode after the full-back was concussed in Saturday's win at Ulster.

Goode was stretchered off after only four minutes of the 17-15 Heineken Cup quarter-final win at Ravenhill after being taken out in mid air by Jared Payne.

Payne has been given a two-week suspension for the incident that McCall insists could have left Goode with a significant neck injury.

The 25-year-old is undergoing return to play protocols in keeping with concussion guidelines and is unlikely to play in Sunday's Aviva Premiership showdown with play-off rivals Northampton.

"Alex is OK, but we'll see how he goes. He was pretty shaken up afterwards," McCall said.

"We're not going to take any gamble now with Alex, his health is far too important. It's highly unlikely he'll play this weekend.

"He could have got a serious neck injury given the way he fell."

Judicial officer Simon Thomas, presiding over Payne's independent disciplinary hearing in Dublin on Wednesday afternoon, described the case as "particularly challenging".

Payne's sight was fixed on the ball as he clattered into Goode, but McCall views the incident in simpler terms than a debate over intent.

"It was an unintentional act, he didn't mean to do it, but we have a player who is injured at the moment. I only care about the player who's injured," McCall said.

"Anybody I've spoken to who has played in the back three and any referees I've spoken to agree it was a red card, whether it was intentional or not. You still have duty of care."

Saracens have lost Ernst Joubert for the rest of the season after the South African number eight underwent knee surgery on Tuesday, while Scotland centre Duncan Taylor is sidelined with a hamstring problem.

"We've lost three important players and that's because of the nature of these games unfortunately," McCall said.

However, flanker Will Fraser and lock Alistair Hargreaves have returned from injury for the business end of the season, although the Northampton game may arrive too early.

England number eight Billy Vunipola showed no adverse reaction from the ankle ligament damage that ended his RBS 6 Nations when he made his comeback against Ulster.

"I thought Billy was wonderful given he only had four weeks off. He was magnificent," McCall said.