Six Nations 2014: Injured trio could return for Ireland match


Stuart Lancaster believes three of England's orthopaedically challenged brigade – the Northampton full-back Ben Foden, the London Irish wing Marland Yarde and the Bath prop David Wilson – may return to fitness in time for the mid-point match of the Six Nations Championship, against Ireland at Twickenham on 22 February. The head coach did not say so openly, but he would surely take Wilson over the other two at this stage of proceedings.

The front-rower's calf injury, sustained before Christmas and more serious than initially thought, has left England in serious difficulties on the tight-head side of the scrum. Dan Cole, the senior No 3 in the country, is fully fit at present, although two weekends of Heineken Cup rugby could change all that.

The only other candidate for duty against France at the start of next month is the uncapped Henry Thomas, who cannot force a place in Sale's front row as things currently stand but is pretty much guaranteed a seat on the England bench in Paris.

Lancaster is seriously worried about the state of play in the grunt-and-groan department, especially as France have Thomas Domingo of Clermont Auvergne, one of the most awkward front-row customers of all, in their training party for the latest instalment of the long-running rugby soap opera known as "Le Crunch". However, he tried his level best to put a brave face on it.

"Losing David is a big blow, but I think Henry will be all right," he said. "If you think of him next to Dylan Hartley or Tom Youngs at hooker, with a Joe Launchbury and a Tom Wood behind him, he'll have a lot of experience in his corner. He's spent a lot of time in our camp over recent months, so he knows how we operate. This is his chance to prove he's ready for international rugby."

Wales, the Six Nations champions who wrecked England's dream of a Grand Slam in Cardiff last March, are likely to have the Lions centre Jamie Roberts in the selection mix ahead of their opening tournament match against Italy at the Millennium Stadium in a little over three weeks' time.

Roberts is suffering from a knee injury but the French club Racing Métro expect him to be fit for action next weekend against Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup.