Chris Robshaw has done plenty for the England team since being appointed captain ahead of the Six Nations. Sadly, he will not be doing anything more for the time being. The Harlequins flanker aggravated a thumb injury during last weekend's defeat by the Springboks at Ellis Park and has been forced to pull out of the final Test of the series in Port Elizabeth at the weekend. The Northampton hooker, Dylan Hartley, will lead the side in his stead.
England are not exactly awash with alternatives on the openside flank. Two young No 7s, Carl Fearns of Bath and Jamie Gibson of London Irish, are starting this evening's game with the South African Barbarians in Potchefstroom and Tom Johnson, the new cap from Exeter, has played virtually all his prominent rugby on the blindside. James Haskell, who can function across the back row and has 42 caps, says he favours a Robshaw-type role, but he is new to Stuart Lancaster's regime.
"Chris has been tremendous for us," Lancaster said, a few minutes after discovering the extent of his captain's injury and deciding it would be too great a risk to play him on Saturday. "As you would expect, Chris wanted to strap it up and get on with it but at the moment it is a fracture without full displacement. As it stands, he should recover quite quickly. Another bang could leave him needing surgery and keep him out of rugby for months.
"You might argue that he's had a pretty good run: he plays in an attritional position, yet he's only missed three or four games all season. But it goes without saying that a player who is captaining his country is terribly disappointed when he's told he can't play, and it was a difficult discussion. Yet when I think back to last August, when he was down about missing out on the World Cup selection and I told him not to worry because his time would come, so much has happened. His time did come and he's been outstanding."
Robshaw's clubmate George Robson will lead the "dirt-trackers" in their midweek business. As Ben Morgan, the No 8 who has started the last five red-rose Tests, will be involved from the start in Potchefstroom, it can be taken that Thomas Waldrom of Leicester is in pole position to face the Boks. Two more of last weekend's Test side, the wing David Strettle and the lock Mouritz Botha, are on the bench, and therefore at risk of losing their places in the Test line-up.
Lee Dickson, the Northampton scrum-half, also features this evening and while he is in need of game time, the popular theory here is that Danny Care of Harlequins will return to the Test scene this weekend, in place of the injured Ben Youngs.
There are also indications that the Saracens full-back, Alex Goode, will make a first start at international level and that two World Cup tight forwards, Alex Corbisiero and Tom Palmer, are pushing hard for promotion from the bench.