Stuart Lancaster's carefully laid plans for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship were subject to early adjustment last night, with the first sight of the enemy still almost a fortnight distant. Injuries to two of the England coach's back-row forwards, the Exeter flanker Tom Johnson and the Northampton bruiser Calum Clark, forced him into action and he immediately turned to the uncapped Worcester breakaway Matt Kvesic to fill one of the gaps.
Kvesic, a genuine open-side specialist and therefore a rarity in red-rose circles, was close to selection when Lancaster announced his 33-man elite squad earlier this month. The coach has long considered him one of the brightest back-row talents in the land – a judgement reinforced by the player's outstanding club performance against Leicester shortly after Christmas.
Johnson suffered a knee injury while playing against the reigning champions Leinster in Saturday night's Heineken Cup match at Sandy Park and, if initial assessments are correct, he will certainly be out of circulation for England's opening tournament games against Scotland at Twickenham and Ireland in Dublin.
Clark's shoulder problems are also worrying: like Johnson, he has remained at his club for treatment rather than join the squad in Leeds for this week's training camp – a clear sign that an early recovery is thought unlikely. He has been replaced by the Saracens lock Mouritz Botha, one of the forwards demoted to the second-string Saxons party following the autumn internationals.
Lancaster suspected the last round of Heineken Cup matches would be troublesome on the injury front: Clark was spearheading Northampton's faint survival bid in Glasgow, while Johnson found himself on the dangerous end of a pumped-up Leinster side raging, albeit unsuccessfully, against the dying of the Heineken Cup light.
The coach also called up the long-serving Harlequins wing Ugo Monye, for the very good reason that a number of his selected backs finished the European weekend in need of treatment by the England medical staff. It was not clear yesterday whether the latest contender for the outside-half position, Freddie Burns of Gloucester, would be fit to take a full part in training.