England captain Steve Borthwick was in a specialist eye hospital tonight after receiving a kick to the face from Gloucester hooker Oliver Azam.
Borthwick received five stitches and there was no immediate concern for his sight in the right eye, but club medics transported him to London’s Moorfields Hospital for closer examination of his eye-ball and eye-socket.
Saracens have their own video footage of the incident and head coach Mark McCall suspects Azam may have deliberately kicked out at Borthwick in a 13th-minute ruck.
McCall said: “We have had a quick look at it. We are concerned at the way it occurred and it would appear it may have been a deliberate act of foul play.
“Steve is at hospital to see if there is any damage to his eye-socket. It is more than a cut. His eye is completely closed over and at this stage we don’t know how badly damaged it is.
“The video footage we have seen so far would appear to be reasonably clear.
“It is something nobody wants to see. Steve was on the ground and pretty much defenceless in the position he was in.”
Azam explained he had lashed out with his right leg because his left ankle was being twisted at the bottom of a ruck.
But he denied deliberately kicking Borthwick and said any contact was accidental.
“I didn’t know I did it. Someone twisted my ankle but I didn’t know I touched him,” he said. “Of course (it was accidental).”
Saracens defied the loss of Borthwick, who director of rugby Brendan Venter described last week as a talismanic leader, to go top of the Guinness Premiership table with a fourth straight victory.
Replacement hooker Schalk Brits scored the decisive try after 67 minutes and fly-half Glen Jackson chipped in with 14 points as Saracens sealed their best ever start to the Premiership season.
“We are under no illusions that we are playing the best rugby in the league but this is a brand new squad and we are building from the bottom,” said McCall.
“We have made ourselves unbelievably competitive. It is important we continue to win but everyone in the changing room knows we can improve.”
Gloucester had taken a second-minute lead through Rory Lawson’s opportunist try and maintained that advantage until Brits barged over in the 67th minute.
Nicky Robinson landed three penalties and a conversion but he missed with an injury-time drop goal that would have earned Gloucester a draw.
“I thought we had done enough to win the game,” said Gloucester boss Bryan Redpath, who insisted he had not seen the Borthwick incident.
“We put a huge amount in but didn’t get a huge amount out of it.”