Six Nations 2014: Billy Vunipola ruled out of Six Nations run-in for England
The Saracens No 8 will miss the final two matches
Stuart Lancaster’s understandable delight at England’s resourceful Six Nations victory over Ireland at Twickenham was diluted yesterday when the head coach discovered that one of his top-performing players, the Saracens No 8 Billy Vunipola, would miss the remaining two matches of the tournament through injury. Vunipola sprained his right ankle during the first half of Saturday’s game and a subsequent scan revealed a degree of ligament damage.
Ben Morgan of Gloucester will therefore start the big game with Wales in 12 days’ time – a chance for the West Countryman to make up ground lost during a barren run of form before Christmas. Lancaster indicated last night that the back-row replacement would be one of two candidates: the Exeter flanker Tom Johnson or another Gloucester man, the breakaway specialist Matt Kvesic. Johnson may just be favourite on account of his experience in all three loose forward positions.
Meanwhile, the France coach, Philippe Saint-André, had one of his “interesting” days as he sifted through the debris of his side’s desperate performance against the Welsh in Cardiff last Friday night. First of all, he received confirmation that the Clermont Auvergne centre Wesley Fofana, his best midfielder, and the Toulouse flanker Yannick Nyanga, the most reliable of his back-row forwards, would miss the match with Scotland at Murrayfield on 8 March. They are suffering from mashed-up ribs and a torn hamstring respectively.
Saint-Andre then decided to drop No 8 Louis Picamoles, one of his kingpin players, even though France must win in Edinburgh if they are to have any chance of claiming the title. Picamoles was sent to the sin bin during the second half of the capitulation at the Millennium Stadium and was seen making gestures towards the referee Alain Rolland – studies in schoolboy irony to some observers, crimes against rugby to others – on his way off the field.
The coach took an extremely dim view of the Toulouse forward’s reaction, hence the move to restore Antonie Claassen of Castres to the squad in his place. “After this defeat we have made some changes to compensate for injuries and perceived shortcomings – and also in reaction to certain attitudes vis-à-vis the match officials that have no place in our sport,” explained Saint-Andre, who has recalled Morgan Parra, even though the goal-kicking scrum-half from Clermont was sent off for butting in a domestic league game at the weekend and is due to appear before for a disciplinary tribunal in the coming days.
“Respect is the foundation of our values,” he said. “It is important to send a signal to all players that the privilege of wearing the jersey imposes duties and obligations.”
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