England view back row injury crisis as ‘great’ World Cup preparation

England have welcomed a string of injuries to their back row as an opportunity to contingency plan in case disaster strikes at the World Cup.

Eddie Jones has taken the unusual step of naming two hookers on the bench for Saturday’s Test against Wales in Cardiff with Jamie George and Jack Singleton supporting Luke Cowan-Dickie.

Singleton won his first cap against the Six Nations Grand Slam champions last weekend and is poised to claim the second as a back row replacement in the World Cup warm-up Test at the Principality Stadium.

Tom Curry, Mark Wilson and Sam Underhill are unavailable through injury, forcing England to examine otherwise unlikely options for the back of the scrum.

“This is actually great for us – it’s the type of thing that could happen to us at the World Cup. Players have to adapt,” forwards coach Steve Borthwick said.

“We’ve got three very good hookers and Jack is there to operate as a utility forward. It’s great opportunity for him and for us to learn to adapt.”

Curry (shoulder), Mark Wilson (ribs) and Sam Underhill (toe) are involved in training and should play some part in the remaining two warm-up games against Ireland and Italy.

Henry Slade, however, might miss all four Tests because of his knee injury and has tentatively been pencilled in to face Italy on September 6 – the same date it is hoped his Exeter colleague Jack Nowell will return from an ankle problem.

Ruaridh McConnochie will make his England debut against Wales a week later than hoped for after overcoming a hip problem.

The Bath wing and sevens specialist was picked in the team to face Warren Gatland’s men at Twickenham last weekend but was among a trio of late withdrawals due to injury.

Attack coach Scott Wisemantel is backing the Rio 2016 silver medallist to thrive despite the cauldron-like atmosphere awaiting in the Welsh capital.

Ruaridh McConnochie will make his England debut
Ruaridh McConnochie will make his England debut (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“It’s a great opportunity for him. He deserves his chance and it was unfortunate last week when he had the minor injury blow,” Wisemantel said.

“Cardiff on Saturday will be intense but once he gets going and once the whistle is blown, he’ll just settle into things and will be fine.

“He won’t have any problems. The guy has played on the big stage – the Olympic Games. So it won’t be a problem at all.

“He’ll draw on that experience, but he’ll also be focused on the game. He’ll do the job and do it well.”

Anthony Watson has been left out of the matchday 23 after completing his comeback from a 17-month absence due to an Achilles issues, so Joe Cokanasiga lines-up on the opposite wing.

England captain Owen Farrell makes his first appearance of the World Cup warm-up schedule but is confined to a place in the bench, meaning George Ford will lead the team once more.

Owen Farrell returns to the bench
Owen Farrell returns to the bench (Tim Goode/PA)

In total there are are three changes to the side that routed Wales 33-19 with Maro Itoje restored to the second row in place of Charlie Ewels with Joe Launchbury still present.

The final adjustment comes in the back row where Courtney Lawes packs down at blindside flanker, forcing Lewis Ludlam to switch to seven.

Piers Francis and Jonathan Joseph are reunited as the centre pairing and New Zealand-born Willi Heinz wins his second cap at scrum-half.

“We want to back up Sunday. We feel there are areas of growth that we can show on Saturday,” Ford said.

“Going to Cardiff is brilliant for us. It’s brilliant for us as players to be challenged like that. We’re coming up against strong opponents so we’ll make the most of it.”

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