England to shuffle pack against Ireland and keep Vunipola on ice
Mark Wilson, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill all trained on Wednesday at Pennyhill Park
Billy Vunipola will most likely not play against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
England remain hopeful that back-row trio Mark Wilson, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill will all be fit to face Ireland.
England want all three available to offset any need to pitch Billy Vunipola into a third Test in as many weeks. Wilson has been carrying a rib complaint, Curry a shoulder concern and Underhll an ankle problem, but all three trained on Wednesday at England’s Pennyhill Park camp.
“Those guys trained, trained well, and we’ll continue to monitor them as training progresses,” said forwards coach Steve Borthwick. Lewis Ludlam is unavailable this weekend, undergoing a week’s active rest as part of the deal between the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Premiership clubs.
The Northampton flanker’s absence increases the need for Wilson, Curry and Underhill to be available, and ease any injury glut for head coach Eddie Jones.
Worcester hooker Jack Singleton covered back-row in England’s home and away matches against Wales, as boss Jones prepares for the realities and constraints of the 31-man World Cup squad.
England will hope not to have to be stretched to that extent this weekend however, even in the enforced absence of Ludlam. Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes are also further options to slot into the back-row should either lock be required to step out to a loose-forward role.
Mako Vunipola is expected to feature after recovering from hamstring surgery, with Borthwick admitting the British and Irish Lions prop offers England a significant boost.
England have rarely been able to field their power quartet of Mako and Billy Vunipola, Itoje and Manu Tuilagi. All four are fit and ready now, though, with Borthwick admitting that group can alter England’s attacking dynamic.
“We want all our players available, and Mako’s a world-class player and we’re very fortunate to have three tremendous players in that position,” said Borthwick.
Gregor Townsend, meanwhile, says he had initially planned to change the entire starting XV for Saturday’s match against France at Murrayfield, but was persuaded to keep star man Stuart Hogg in the side because the fullback feels he needs more game time after coming off early with cramp last weekend.
Scotland slumped to a demoralising 32-3 thrashing in the south of France on Saturday evening, but Townsend has backed his side to bounce back in the rematch if they get their basics right.
He has made 14 changes to the starting line-up, meaning the vast majority of players in this weekend’s team were not directly responsible for the debacle in Nice, but the head coach insists that the side which will take the park on Saturday are hurting just as much from the result as the individuals who did play.
Scotland (v France): S Hogg; T Seymour, C Harris, P Horne, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; G Reid, G Turner, W Nel; S Cummings, S Skinner; R Wilson, H Watson, B Thomson.
Replacements: G Stewart, A Dell, S Berghan, G Gilchrist, J Barclay, G Horne, R Hutchinson, B Kinghorn.