England's last-minute planning for the World Cup in New Zealand, already disrupted by injury concerns over three leading players, were further undermined yesterday when the flanker James Haskell, a prominent contributor to the Six Nations Championship victory in the spring, broke down with foot trouble. The 26-year-old back-row forward must have the injury scanned and is in danger of missing this weekend's final warm-up match with Ireland in Dublin.
"We'll stay positive about James unless and until we're given some bad news," said Graham Rowntree, who added that to the best of his knowledge, the problem was "minor". The scrum coach was far more clued into the situation surrounding the Lions Test prop Andrew Sheridan, who has yet to shake off his latest shoulder injury to the satisfaction of the medical staff. According to Rowntree, there is an outside chance of the 31-year-old loose head playing some part in proceedings at Lansdowne Road.
"While injuries have blighted Andrew in terms of consistency, I'm confident that when we get to the big stage – and the World Cup is the biggest stage of all – he won't let us down," the coach said.
There is no chance of the other walking wounded appearing against Ireland, even off the bench. Captain Lewis Moody and scrum-half Ben Youngs, both suffering from knee trouble, will be some way short of full fitness when they fly to All Black country and there is no guarantee they will pass muster for the opening pool match with Argentina a fortnight on Saturday.