England vs South Africa: Joe Launchbury remains a serious doubt as Springboks suffer double injury blow

Wasps captain is yet to train since injuring his calf last week, with Nick Isiekwe on stand-by to partner Maro Itoje in the second-row

Duncan Bech
Durban
Wednesday 06 June 2018 16:41 BST
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Launchbury has spent the week recovering from a calf injury
Launchbury has spent the week recovering from a calf injury (Getty)

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Joe Launchbury continues to be a major doubt for Saturday’s first Test against South Africa with England willing to give him every chance to prove his fitness, but the Springboks have been hit by the double withdrawal of Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis for the entire series.

The in-form Wasps captain Launchbury was once again unable to train with Eddie Jones’ squad at Kings Park on Wednesday due to the calf injury sustained in practice last week.

Launchbury is set to form a second-row partnership alongside Maro Itoje if fit, with Nick Isiekwe and Jonny Hill the alternatives if he fails to recover in time.

England name their team for the series opener against the Springboks at Ellis Park on Thursday and are hopeful that their veteran lock will be involved.

“We’re giving Joe the best possible chance to play this weekend,” defence coach Paul Gustard said.

“He’s on a modified programme. We’ll have to assess how he came through today (Wednesday). We’ll assess it later on when we have our selection meeting.”

The uncertainty over Launchbury is the only injury concern as selection is finalised for England’s attempt at halting their four-match losing run, but there are two positions up for grabs.

Tighthead prop sees the inexperienced Kyle Sinckler and Harry Williams battle it out for the starting jersey in the absence of Dan Cole, who has been rested for the tour.

Sinckler is the incumbent having played the role against Ireland in the NatWest 6 Nations, while Williams has not started for his club Exeter since January due to a neck injury.

Behind the scrum, Alex Lozowski and Henry Slade duel for selection at outside centre with the former’s familiarity with Saracens colleague Owen Farrell possibly winning him the nod.

The series marks Gustard’s final involvement with England before joining Harlequins upon completion of the tour.

“I’m looking forward to it, I’m pumped. It’s a great opportunity to make history, a great opportunity to go to Ellis Park. We’re over here to do a job and it starts this weekend,” Gustard said.

“My motivation as ever is to win and we have a great opportunity to win on Saturday. My entire focus is winning and how can I play a part in making sure we can win 3-0.”

Launchbury is yet to train ahead of the first Test
Launchbury is yet to train ahead of the first Test (Getty)

England have not won at Ellis Park since 1972 – their only triumph at the venue – and their last appearance there was a 36-27 defeat under Stuart Lancaster in 2012.

“We’ve got a different group to then (2012). This group has gone to different places around the world,” Gustard said.

“We’ve been in some high-pressure matches, we’ve got players who have been on a Lions tour and some with 50-60 caps.

“These are experienced internationals who have played in cauldrons and big Test matches and big European finals.

“It’s a different group of players with a different coaching group and different motivation.”

Joe Launchbury is a major injury doubt for England's first Test against South Africa
Joe Launchbury is a major injury doubt for England's first Test against South Africa (Getty)

The news for Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus was far worse though as both Du Plessis and Steyn have been ruled out of South Africa’s entire Test series against England due to injury.

Erasmus revealed on Monday that the French-based duo would miss the Johannesburg opener but 48 hours later the decision has been taken to release them from the squad altogether.

Du Plessis was set to start at hooker and Steyn at inside centre only for unspecified injuries sustained on Top 14 duty with Montpellier last weekend to curtail those plans.

“The players have undergone further investigations and specialist opinions and it was decided to withdraw them from the Springbok squad for the series against England,” a SA Rugby statement read.

PA

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