Rugby World Cup 2015: Stuart Lancaster boost as key men win fitness battles for tournament

Bath's David Wilson and Joe Launchbury of Wasps are close to a return after serious injury setbacks

Stuart Lancaster was in need of some good news after being publicly informed by his immediate boss, the Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie, that England’s recent Six Nations near misses had been “unacceptable”, so today’s injury bulletins on two of the head coach’s senior tight forwards were welcome indeed. David Wilson, the Bath prop, and Joe Launchbury, the Wasps lock, are close to fitness after serious injury setbacks and should be in prime shape for the forthcoming World Cup.

Both men missed the Six Nations after suffering neck injuries – pretty much the worst kind of orthopaedic hassle for players who operate in the darkened recesses of scrum, ruck and maul – and both found themselves in need of surgery. Launchbury, the man around whom Lancaster had been building his pack, was the first to break down in October, while Wilson’s wear-and-tear condition deteriorated in the weeks after Christmas.

In the worst-case scenario, the business end of the club campaign would have passed them by and left them off the pace ahead of the World Cup camp in June. As it is, they are expected to be ready from the get-go.

“David will be playing by the end of April – maybe by the middle of the month,” said Mike Ford, the Bath head coach. “It’s just a matter of him going through his programme in the gym. His strength is returning with every weights session.”

 

Launchbury is in “the final stages of his rehab,” according to the Wasps director of rugby, David Young, who anticipates a comeback appearance against either Exeter on  26 April or Leicester a fortnight later.

It remains to be seen how quickly another Bath prop on the England radar, the fast-improving Henry Thomas, will recover from an operation to mend a mangled shoulder joint, but even without him, Wilson’s recovery will ensure a fierce scrap for World Cup places in a key area of the forward pack. The Tynesider will be engaged in a three-way contest for two places with Dan Cole of Leicester and Kieran Brookes of Newcastle.

As for the second row, the contest will be off the scale. Launchbury can expect to find himself up against Courtney Lawes of Northampton, Geoff Parling of Leicester, Dave Attwood of Bath and George Kruis of Saracens – and maybe one or two others – in the race for four specialist second-row spots.

While Bath expect to be at full strength in every position bar tight-head prop for their European Champions Cup quarter-final with the three-time winners Leinster in Dublin on Saturday – the England quartet of Attwood, George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson will all return to the squad, as will the Wales front-rower Paul James – the Wasps management were left counting the cost of a three-week suspension imposed on the increasingly influential No 8 Nathan Hughes ahead of their own desperately difficult tie, against the holders Toulon in the south of France on Sunday.

Hughes faced a disciplinary tribunal in London following his red-card dismissal during last week’s Premiership defeat at Northampton. His futile attempt to stop George North grounding the ball for a corner-flag try left the Lions Test wing in a semi-conscious state and resulted in a charge of “striking with the knee and/or shin, contrary to Law 10.4 (a)”.

North has already been ruled out of his club’s Euro quarter-final, against Clermont Auvergne in France, and was reported to be consulting a neurosurgeon following a series of concussion-related lay-offs.

While the RFU panel accepted that there was no intent on the part of Hughes, it decided his action was reckless and banned the back-rower until 28 April.

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