Stuart Lancaster did not quite spend yesterday scraping the barrel for fit players ahead of England’s difficult Six Nations visit to Wales on Friday week: in turning to Tom Croft, the Lions Test flanker from Leicester, and the uncapped Northampton lock Christian Day, the head coach summoned two of the most effective performers in the country. But there was no sugar-coating the fact that his squad was in pieces following a bruising round of European club matches.
Croft, who has played little rugby after months of orthopaedic hassle, was called up as cover for Northampton’s Tom Wood, a clear first choice in the blind-side position, who suffered a worrying ankle injury against Racing Métro.
Day was whistled up for the stricken Leicester line-out specialist Geoff Parling, who failed to go the distance as the Tigers found themselves on the wrong end of another of their regular hidings from Ulster in Belfast and appears to have little chance of recovering from knee ligament damage in time to play an active part at the Millennium Stadium.
And that was not the half of it. The midfield was also badly hit, with the Saracens pair of Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt mangling knee joints while losing to Clermont Auvergne, Kyle Eastmond of Bath aggravating a shoulder problem during the opening exchanges with Glasgow and Luther Burrell, another Northampton man, being diagnosed with concussion.
If Lancaster decided against reinforcing his dwindling contingent outside the scrum, it was only because he took precautions against the fall-out by picking virtually every candidate imaginable in his original squad. Burrell is expected to train this Friday, but with Farrell on crutches and Barritt and Eastmond under assessment, it may be that the coach will have to re-think his entire midfield strategy ahead of the meeting with Jamie Roberts and company. This is something he could well do without, not least because he is already faced with serious problems in the pack.
Three influential forwards – the Wasps lock Joe Launchbury, the Northampton second-rower Courtney Lawes and the Gloucester No 8 Ben Morgan – were declared off-limits before Lancaster named his training party six days ago, while the Saracens man George Kruis, who won his first caps in Launchbury’s absence during the autumn series, is suspended. Kruis is available for the trip to Cardiff, but will be short of match hardness after being handed a three-week rest.
Should Farrell fail to make it, there is certain to be a clamour of support for Danny Cipriani to understudy George Ford at outside-half. He is behind Stephen Myler of Northampton in the pecking order – theoretically, at least – but a strong training contribution might push him to the fore.
As for the troublesome inside-centre position, the Barritt and Eastmond injuries, allied to growing concerns over Burrell’s form as well as that bang on the head, could yet push the Gloucester captain Billy Twelvetrees back into Lancaster’s eyeline.
Ireland, joint favourites with England for the Six Nations title, are not in the pink either. They may be without two leading scrum-halves, Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan, for their opener against Italy in Rome on 7 February. Neither No 8 Jamie Heaslip nor his back-row partner Rhys Ruddock are fit to train this week.
On the club front, Saracens announced that their flanker Will Fraser, an England contender at the start of the season, will miss the rest of the campaign. He requires surgery on his back.Reuse content