England have fully fit squad for critical World Cup games
England expect to enter the critical phase of their World Cup group campaign with an entirely fit squad after Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell played a full part in training on Friday.
But they could lose a player for disciplinary reasons after Piers Francis was cited for a shoulder-led challenge to the head of Will Hooley in the 45-7 victory over the United States at Kobe Misaki Stadium.
If the citing is upheld, Francis is facing a ban in the region of six weeks minus any reduction for mitigating circumstances, potentially ending his involvement in Japan 2019.
With Eddie Jones now turning to his strongest starting XV for every match, however, the Northampton centre’s involvement was likely to be minimal from this stage of tournament anyway.
After sweeping aside Tonga and the USA during the four-day turnaround that opened Pool C, Eddie Jones’ men face clashes with Argentina and France that will determine whether they progress into the knock-out stage.
Vunipola and Nowell have yet to play a part in Japan 2019 due to respective hamstring and knee injuries but they should be in contention for the Tokyo Stadium clash on Saturday week.
“We trained early this morning (Friday) and Mako and Jack are good. At this stage we believe everyone will be available against Argentina,” attack coach Scott Wisemantel said.
Vunipola has become the sport’s foremost loosehead prop but Wisemantel insists he can not expect to walk straight back into the starting front row due to the form of Joe Marler and Ellis Genge.
“Mako gives us something with his ball carrying and energy around the park,” said Wisemantel.
“But the way the boys are going, he’s going to find it hard to get back into the team selection-wise. Joe and Ellis are doing a good job.”
Nowell was unable to play a single minute of the warm-up series because of the injury sustained in last season’s Gallagher Premiership final but his impact off the bench and ability to cover multiple positions makes him invaluable to England.
“Jack adds something different. He is a hybrid really – a winger cum back rower, the way he plays,” Wisemantel said.
Wing Jonny May welcomes the imminent return of two key assets in England’s quest to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy on November 2.
“You want your best players fit and they trained well this morning. Mako is a world class prop so to have him back is brilliant,” May said.
“Jack is world class as well, so to get two players of that standard, raising the standard of everyone around them, is brilliant at this stage of the World Cup.”
Owen Farrell was given a clean bill of health the morning after he was flattened by USA flanker John Quill, who was shown the first red card of the tournament as a result.
Farrell was struck on the chin by Quill’s shoulder-led challenge in the 70th minute of England’s victory at Kobe Misaki Stadium but has shown no adverse effects.
“Owen is fine, he still has his looks,” Wisemantel said.
In the same match, Francis launched himself at Hooley in the opening seconds in a challenge that was missed by the officials, but replays indicated there was contact with full-back’s head.
On the basis of the outcome of citings for similar offences already at this World Cup, the Saints playmaker would be looking a mid-range sanction of a six week suspension reduced to three.