England unwilling to take risks with Billy Vunipola’s fitness

Billy Vunipola appears increasing unlikely to play any part in England’s final World Cup group game against France.

Vunipola injured his left ankle in Saturday’s bonus-point victory over Argentina and after repeatedly receiving treatment on the pitch, was withdrawn at half-time and has undergone a scan.

While refusing to rule him out of the climax to Pool C against France, attack coach Scott Wisemantel revealed that the Saracens number eight has been doing recovery and rehabilitation work instead of training with the rest of Eddie Jones’ squad.

Vunipola is one of England's most destructive ball carriers
Vunipola is one of England’s most destructive ball carriers (David Davies/PA)

Having already qualified for the quarter-finals, England are able to make a number of changes knowing Saturday’s clash at International Stadium Yokohama decides only who finishes top of Pool C.

Vunipola, the team’s most potent forward ball carrier, is the only player to have started all 12 of this year’s Tests and his value to Jones means his fitness will not be gambled on.

“We’re being overly cautious. If there’s any risk he will not be 100 per cent he won’t play, but I don’t know the outcome of the scan. If there’s any risk, we won’t risk him,” Wisemantel said.

Tom Curry slotted in at number eight when Vunipola limped off against France, but Mark Wilson is favourite to fill the void before the knockout phase begins against Wales or Australia.

Scott Wisemantel says England will not take fitness risks
Scott Wisemantel says England will not take fitness risks (John Walton/PA)

“We still have a luxury of carriers. Billy has been terrific for us, but he missed the autumn recently and Mark Wilson was the player of that series,” scrum-half Ben Youngs said.

“Billy does suck in lots of defenders and he’s a great carrier for us, but those other guys carry the ball differently because of the lines they pick. They are a bit more subtle about where they pop up.

“We’re blessed with some of the back rows that we have got, but we’re very confident they’ll carry us on to the front foot.”

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