ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster expects second-row Courtney Lawes to shake off the after effects of concussion in time to face South Africa in their second autumn international clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
The biggest question mark continues to hover over Northampton Saints lock Lawes, who suffered a head injury during defeat to world champions New Zealand and is currently undergoing rugby’s mandatory Graduated Return to Play protocol.
Lancaster is quietly confident the 25-year-old will be able to take his place in the England side to face the Springboks and is also hopeful that other walking wounded will have proved their fitness by the weekend.
“I’m reasonably optimistic that Courtney will be available to face South Africa,” said Lancaster. “The knock will curtail his training at the start of the week but that’s the process with these sorts of head injuries.
“Dylan Hartley has also got a bit of a knock and Roko [Semesa Rokoduguni] came off injured after taking a bang. But I’m also optimistic he’ll be fit for training today and the same goes for Dave Attwood who has a few bumps and bruises.
“The only other one is Kyle Eastmond who has been sick and has been in bed ‘quarantined’ for the last 24 hours. It’s too early to say who might miss this week’s game because we don’t pick a side until Thursday.”
Lancaster is predicting a backlash from South Africa after Heyneke Meyer’s side were humbled 29-15 by Ireland on Saturday in the Springboks’ first match since ending New Zealand’s 22-match unbeaten run in Johannesburg last month.
England are yet to taste victory over South Africa during Lancaster’s tenure and with the 45-year-old not planning to make vast changes to his starting line-up, he is fully aware of the areas his side need to improve on after their All Blacks setback.
“We had some inaccuracy in our kicking game – we’ve talked about that – and we need to be better against South Africa because you can’t give them field position with their maul being so good, which it was even against Ireland,” he added.
“Ireland were smart. They looked at different ways of defending the ball, which worked well for them. Their kicking game was good and they took their opportunities. I expect that to spark a performance out of the Springboks this week. But we’ll need to respond as well.
“If we do make changes, it will only be one or two. Making wholesale changes for this game on the back of the performance against New Zealand would be wrong.
“When there’s that frustration inside you that you want to improve, you’ve got to give someone a chance to do that.”
Recent Eng v SA showdowns
■ England 15-16 South Africa, Twickenham, Nov 2012
■ South Africa 14-14 England, Port Elizabeth, June 2012
■ South Africa 36-27 England, Johannesburg, June 2012
■ South Africa 22-17 England, Durban, June 2012