England are today coming to terms with the fall-out from their stunning World Cup victory over New Zealand after Willi Heinz was ruled out of the final while the fitness of a number of players is being monitored closely.
Ben Spencer is set to make his tournament debut in Saturday’s global showpiece after Heinz suffered a hamstring injury against the All Blacks.
Heinz came on in the 63rd minute and although the Gloucester half-back struggled on until the end, the Rugby Football Union has confirmed he will play no further part in the World Cup.
Spencer has won three caps as a replacement, the most recent of which came in this year’s Six Nations, and he will also deputise for first-choice scrum-half Ben Youngs at International Stadium Yokohama.
“Ben Spencer will join the England squad on Monday as an injury replacement for Willi Heinz,” an RFU statement read.
It is understood that Heinz – who is part of the squad’s three-strong social committee alongside Elliot Daly and Jamie George – will stay at England’s training base in Tokyo even though a solid tournament and build-up is over for the World Cup bolter.
Of potentially greater concern are the knocks sustained by captain Owen Farrell, wings Jonny May and Anthony Watson and prop Kyle Sinckler – all key personnel.
Farrell was somehow able to run off a dead leg sustained in a breathtaking maiden World Cup triumph over the All Blacks that has elevated them to the summit of the global rankings.
It is the first time since June 2014 that England have reached such lofty heights and it has come at New Zealand’s expense.
Farrell completed the match, although he gave the kicking duties to George Ford, but the extent of his hobbling in the first half set alarm bells ringing.
May could only last 45 minutes, however, before he succumbed to the same injury and was replaced by Henry Slade, who slotted in at full-back with Daly moving to the left wing.
The Leicester star entered the game having recovered from a hamstring complaint and England will be desperate to have his speed, work-rate and finishing available for the final.
On the other wing, Watson was a constant threat and with 81 made the most metres of any player on the pitch except All Blacks full-back Beauden Barrett. But his superb shift was completed against the backdrop of receiving treatment for what appeared to be an upper body injury.
Sinckler, the aggressive tighthead prop, departed in the 47th minute with what appeared to be a calf issue that Eddie Jones will hope is not serious.
England’s bold decision to stare down the Haka with a V shape was followed up by a try from the outstanding Manu Tuilagi after just 97 seconds, but the blockbusting centre insists the greatest prize of all has yet to be claimed.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 26, 2019
“This was a massive game for us but we’ve won nothing. It doesn’t change our mindset going into next week,” Tuilagi said. “We’re happy with the win. It was a tough game. We gave it everything we’ve got.
“The All Blacks are an unbelievable team. Against the All Blacks it’s never done until the final whistle. It doesn’t matter how many points you are ahead, you can never take your foot off the gas.
“We knew that going into half-time our 10-point lead wasn’t enough, so we had to come out and play. Fair play to our big boys they fronted up and did all the hard work for us.
“This is beyond my dreams. It’s an unbelievable feeling. It was amazing to get through to the semis. Standing here now and we’re in the final. Thank God.”