England vs Wales - RWC 2015: Worry for Red Rose as Jonathan Joseph set to miss Welsh clash

A chest injury could rule Jonathan Joseph out of England’s showdown with Wales on Saturday

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England have run into their first major injury setback of the Rugby World Cup with a chest injury likely to rule outside centre Jonathan Joseph out of the crucial pool match against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday.

Joseph has been arguably England’s standout player in 2015 and he played the whole of the 35-11 win over Fiji last Friday night. But he spent the last eight minutes holding his right pectoral area in pain, and avoiding contact and passing, after making two tackles in five seconds on the wing Waisea Nayacalevu and centre Niki Goneva.

While England’s backs coach Andy Farrell said Joseph would be fit in “no more than a week”, the Bath player will spend today’s squad day off having rehab at the team hotel and if he is not ready to train Thursday morning, he will be out of the team to be announced at 9.30am.

Joseph was named the Rugby Players’ Association player of the year and England player of the year after an outstanding 2014-15 season. He had started eight of England’s nine Tests this calendar year, scoring five tries, and missing only the home friendly with France in August, when his Bath club-mate Sam Burgess started with Exeter’s Henry Slade in the centres.

Judging by Farrell’s comments, Slade is the least likely squad member to fill the vacancy, despite offering the most obviously similar style to Joseph’s silky running and elusive footwork.

The possible permutations in midfield are manifold, but even before the injury news – that included Gloucester No 8 Ben Morgan missing training with a sore knee, while under

pressure for his place anyway from Billy Vunipola – there had been a growing sense that England would meet Wales’s renowned physical challenge with something mighty and muscular of their own.

Brad Barritt and Joseph were the 13th centre combination fielded by England under Stuart Lancaster when they faced Ireland in last month’s warm-up and Fiji in the World Cup opener. Barritt is likely to keep his place, either in his preferred inside-centre position or one place further out. “Like a few others [against Fiji] on the weekend, Brad was a little bit quiet,” Farrell said, “but he’s a big-game player so we can expect a big performance from him.”

As for Burgess, who played an influential cameo as a last-quarter substitute for Barritt in the Fiji match, Farrell said: “It depends whether you want to make the impact from the bench or from the start. The start of the game is pretty important as well. I wouldn’t just pigeon-hole Sam as an impact player, just like New Zealand wouldn’t pigeon-hole Sonny Bill [Williams].”

Sam Burgess is under consideration to replace the centre

There could be a recall for Owen Farrell, either as inside centre alongside fly-half George Ford, or in Ford’s place. If England fancy a combative, kicking game, a centre combo of Barritt and Burgess might be good at the first part but sketchy at the second. Alex Goode, the Saracens full-back who may come on to the bench, said he would be “comfortable” with Farrell and Barritt in front of him. “It wouldn’t be a massive step,” said Goode. “They have their communication and understanding already.”

This was all part of the gamble when Lancaster jettisoned the experienced centre Luther Burrell from England’s 31-man squad.

“Owen has trained for 12 weeks at inside centre [as well as fly-half],” said Farrell Snr, in a shift from the assertion a year ago that his son was considered only as a No 10. “For us it is brilliant because they can all do it and they are pushing each other to do it.”