COACH Andy Farrell has backed veteran No8 Nick Easter to make his mark on England’s bid to resurrect their World Cup hopes after being called into the squad to replace the injured Billy Vunipola.
Saracens wrecking ball Vunipola was ruled out of the tournament yesterday after a scan revealed he had strained a knee ligament during England’s 28-25 defeat against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday. He is expected to be sidelined for six weeks.
Easter, who has 52 Test caps to his name and was a member of England’s World Cup squads in 2007 and 2011, formed part of head coach Stuart Lancaster’s pre-World Cup training party before missing the final cut. But the 37-year-old is now in contention to feature in the weekend’s must-win Pool A clash against Australia, as England bid to avoid the stigma of becoming the first host nation to be eliminated in the group stages.
“Nick has been in the environment for 12 weeks in pre-season and is a smart guy who knows what World Cup games are all about,” said Farrell. “He is desperate for the team to do well and he will want to put his stamp on the squad straight away.”
Easter, who was notoriously accused of quipping “that’s £35,000 down the toilet” in the wake of England’s 2011 World Cup exit, wrote on Twitter: “Gutted for Billy V. Played so well Saturday but honoured to be called up to Rugby World Cup squad in what will be a huge week.”
Easter may be confined to a place among the replacements after Farrell moved to allay fears over fellow No8 Ben Morgan’s knee injury, while second-row Courtney Lawes has emerged as a doubt to face the Wallabies.
“Ben Morgan is fully back into training and fine to go. Courtney has not trained today and won’t train tomorrow. We should know where he is on Wednesday morning,” added Farrell.
“[Centre] Jonathan Joseph is making good strides. We will train twice tomorrow and he is expected to do both. [Scrum-half] Ben Youngs is not ready to train tomorrow but we will know more on Wednesday.”
Should Wales beat Fiji at the Millennium Stadium on Thursday and Australia prevail at Twickenham on Saturday, England will almost certainly be knocked out of their home tournament, while Farrell has urged his side to embrace the pressurised nature of their challenge.
“We move on with the lessons learned to Australia,” said Farrell “This should be the best week of their lives because we know what is at stake.
“We have got to realise we have another chance to get the win that we are so desperate for. We need to get back on the horse and put it right. It is knockout stage now.”
Clubs: Harlequins (current), Orrell
Caps: 51 (30 points)
Position: No8, has also played at blindside flanker and lock
Previous World Cups: 2007 (started six matches as England reached the final) and 2011 (lost in quarter-finals and was accused of quipping “There’s £35K just gone down the toilet”)
Trivia: Has more appearances for Quins than anyone else in the professional era.