Mike Ruddock fears Chris Horsman’s lack of discipline will make him a target for opponents and warns the former Wales international is at a “crossroads” in his career.

The Worcester director of rugby will name Horsman in the squad that returns to Guinness Premiership action with a trip to Sale Sharks on Friday week, for the first time since the 31-year-old was slapped with a four-week ban by the Rugby Football Union for an incident in last month’s defeat to Harlequins.

Horsman was cited following Warriors’ 30-23 loss and later admitted stamping on Quins prop Mike Ross, despite being on the field for just 27 minutes. As if to confirm his bitter relationship with Lady Luck he then broke his thumb three days later against London Irish.

That doubly enforced absence eloquently sums up Horsman’s recent travails with both ill-discipline and injury. The tighthead has not completed a game this season and missed virtually all of last term because of bicep and ankle problems.

As well as being cited against Quins he was also penalised three times and cost his team ten metres for dissent in less than half an hour against Leicester Tigers and his latest indiscretion came despite advice from the Sixways coaching staff.

All of which leads Ruddock to express his misgivings about Horsman’s recent problems. “It is a concern for me and has been a concern for a little while,” the Warriors director of rugby admitted. “It is something I spoke to Chris about prior to this incident.

“We made it clear to him he will be targeted by opposition players and coaches and if he does react it will be a win for the other team. Can he stop it happening? There are no guarantees, we did a lot of work with Chris before the last incident and so the ball is in his court.

“He knows the severity with which we take his lack of discipline and how it affects his team-mates. It’s up to him where he goes from here, he knows he is at a crossroads.”

Horsman has the rest of this plus another season left on his contract at Worcester, so it is not yet a question of him infringing his way out of the club but as things stand he is a long way from regaining the No 3 shirt from Tevita Taumoepeau, never mind working his way into the thoughts of his international head coach Warren Gatland.

But Ruddock has previously backed the former Bath man to bounce back and claimed the veteran could become an even better player having worked so hard on his fitness during his long-term absence last season.

There is no sign of that happening yet, although if Horsman can recapture his best form he could emerge once more as the dominant player in his position in the league and still has time to convince Gatland he is worth featuring in next year’s Six Nations.

“It is how he comes back from this that matters,” Ruddock said. “We all have setbacks in our careers, as coaches or players, it’s about how you respond.

“Look at Paula Radcliffe. She has come back to win many, many championships.

“Chris is showing signs of that. He is in with the 7am crowd, the guys who are not on the panel, and he is working very hard. There can be no doubting his commitment. All we can do is give him another chance and he has to take it.”

One stalwart who has slipped seamlessly back into the groove, however, is Horsman’s skipper Pat Sanderson who returned in the EDF Energy rematch with Quins on Sunday with a try scoring performance after having undergone surgery to remove a thigh blood clot.