Cueto picks up virus to give England scare

Ashton called in as cover but Sale wing should shake off illness to face Ireland

Along with the other viruses hanging around the England camp – symptoms include a chronic fear of open spaces and an overwhelming urge to kick the ball rather than pass it – a persistent stomach bug continues to threaten the national team's Six Nations progress. The latest victim, the Sale wing Mark Cueto, could not train yesterday, so the uncapped Chris Ashton of Northampton was called into the party, much to the frustration of his club, who were planning to play the Premiership's leading try-scorer in this weekend's big derby contest with Leicester.

There was no serious suggestion that Cueto might miss the contest with Ireland at Twickenham tomorrow – the likes of Steve Borthwick, Simon Shaw and Toby Flood successfully shook off a similar illness ahead of the game with Italy in Rome 12 days ago – but there was a degree of anxiety in the red-rose camp all the same. Cueto is performing as well as anyone in the side and better than most. Given the potency of the Irish back division, he is among the very last people England need to lose.

Borthwick, ever precise in his analysis, pointed out that Cueto's ailment was not quite the same as the one that had laid him low before Rome. Happily, he spared his audience the full details. What he did not spare them was a characteristically resolute defence of England's rugby over the first two rounds of the tournament, which resulted in a narrow, slightly fortunate victory over Wales, followed by a one-try win over the Azzurri that might yet be bottled and marketed as a cure for insomnia.

"I said after the Italy game there were areas in which we could improve," remarked the captain, roundly mocked by those who took his comments at Stadio Flaminio to mean quite the opposite. "But too often, we play down the good things and look for the negatives. I don't hide from the fact that we need to convert more of our opportunities into tries: you can make all the breaks you want, but they're worth nothing if you don't cross the goal line. There again, I thought we did a lot of things well in Rome. Was I surprised at the reaction? No, it was trademark. I ask you this: what would you write about us if we threw the ball around under our own posts and found ourselves being turned over?"

If Borthwick was determined to defend his team, he was especially keen on showing support for Jonny Wilkinson, who will win his 76th cap at outside-half tomorrow. Increasingly, Wilkinson is being identified as England's chief problem, having spent much of the last decade being lauded as their chief asset. The captain was having none of it.

"Jonny is proudly self-analytical, as everyone knows," he said of the World Cup-winning goal-kicker. "All this criticism from outside... look, he's a player who knows what he's about and understands what he's trying to achieve. I can't praise him highly enough for his contribution to this team: he's been a key leader for us in this week's preparation, as he is every week. The pressure may come on us and the criticism may come on us. We'll stick together."

The last time Stephen Ferris, perhaps the form blind-side operator in world rugby, played in England, in a Heineken Cup match for Ulster against Bath last month, he found himself being stamped on by the former England lock Danny Grewcock, who was promptly sent off for his trouble. The flanker, twice gouged by Stade Français players in an earlier European pool tie before Christmas, expects another hard game tomorrow, if not hard in quite the same way.

"England have a strong back row, there's no doubting it," he commented. "They're good ball carriers and they get around the park pretty well. But if we perform as we have in the past, we should have nothing to worry about." Confident? You could say.

Jerry Flannery, the Munster hooker banned for this game – indeed, for the rest of the competition – after hacking the French wing Alexis Palisson off the field in the last round of matches, will appeal against the length of his suspension in London on Wednesday.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing