Two of England’s injury-hit battalion of midfield contenders, Brad Barritt of Saracens and Kyle Eastmond of Bath, were last night named in a 33-man England squad preparing for this weekend’s Six Nations meeting with Italy at Twickenham – a game they were odds-on favourites to win even before the eyebrow-raising victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
The Leicester lock Geoff Parling was also present and correct at the base in Surrey, following fitness problems of his own.
Barritt and Parling would probably have been in the starting line-up in Cardiff, had they been available, but their knee problems forced the head coach Stuart Lancaster to recall Jonathan Joseph at outside centre and give George Kruis a first international start in the engine room. Joseph played a blinder, scoring England’s all-important second try with a flash of individuality not always associated with red-rose centres, while Kruis put in a major shift up front. Neither man is obviously droppable for the visit of the Azzurri.
Lancaster announced that four more injured players – the Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi, the Bath prop David Wilson and two Northampton forwards, the lock Courtney Lawes and the flanker Tom Wood – would also spend time in camp as part of their rehabilitations. However, the Northampton outside-half Stephen Myler, troubled by a calf strain and overtaken in the pecking order by the much talked-about Danny Cipriani, will not participate over the next few days.
England are beginning to look strong in numbers, particularly up front, and it may be that Lancaster will be tempted to make adjustments to his replacements’ bench while keeping faith with the starting line-up that performed so well in the opening match.
In Cardiff, the coach went without specialist second-row cover, asking the veteran Harlequins No 8 Nick Easter to do the necessary. If Parling is fit, there could be a change.
Italy, meanwhile, have injury concerns over three of their best players: the centre Michele Campagnaro and two back-rowers, Alessandro Zanni and Robert Barbieri. In addition, the long-serving lock and former captain Marco Bortolami is under treatment. Jacques Brunel, the coach of the perennial Six Nations underdogs, has called up the Zebre loose forward Samuela Vunisa, who has been capped just the once, and the club centre Tommaso Boni, who has not been capped at all.
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