HOOKER Steve Thompson admits the England squad are feeling a sense of relief after learning that Courtney Lawes will be back for the crunch World Cup Pool B game against Scotland in a fortnight’s time.
Northampton lock Lawes will miss the upcoming matches against Romania and Georgia as a result of the ban he received for recklessly striking Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma with his knee during England’s narrow win against the Pumas last Saturday.
The punishment could have been worse, however, for the 22-year-old, with the offence carrying a maximum suspension of 12 weeks. Fortunately, an independent panel judged his misdemeanour to be at the “low end” of the scale and he will return for the business end of the tournament.
Thompson said: “It’s a shame that it’s happened but we’ve got strength in depth. I think we’re relieved it’s not a three-game ban. Any players like that you want them to be back on the pitch as soon as possible.”
Lawes’ absence is likely to be offset, however, by the anticipated return of skipper Lewis Moody. The Bath flanker has been restricted to just over an hour of international rugby this season by various injuries, but manager Martin Johnson expects the 2003 World Cup winner to figure against Georgia on Sunday.
“Yeah, we anticipate him being there,” the England supremo stated. “We talked last week about where he was and he wasn’t far off.
“He was running around in training last week and the week before, so another week’s always better if you’ve been injured a long time, but at some point you’ve got to go, so we’re hopeful.”
Scrum-half Ben Youngs, who scored England’s match-winning try against Argentina, admits that the return of the inspirational Moody will give the side a huge lift.
“(He’s a) great guy, great team leader,”said the Leicester star.
“He’s one of those guys that doesn’t need to say a lot, you just follow, someone who just flies in and you’re just very honoured and proud to play alongside him.
“He gives nothing less than 100 percent for his country and at times it actually makes you quite emotional to watch guys like that.
“It’s great to see him back, he’s a tremendous player, he’s been a great servant for England so it’s just exciting to have these guys back.”
THE BREAKDOWN | WORLD CUP BRIEFS
Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy should be available to face Australia on Saturday despite suffering a hamstring strain. Murphy sustained the injury during training but has not been ruled out of the vital Pool C clash at Eden Park. Prop Tony Buckley is also expected to recover in time to face the Wallabies.
FRANCE MAKE CHANGES
France coach Marc Lievermont wholesale changes to his side ahead of Sunday’s clash with Canada. Only hooker William Servat and fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc remaining in the same positions from the side which laboured to a victory over Japan , while captain Thierry Dusautoir is left out of the matchday 22 altogther. “This is not a punishment,” insisted Lievermont. “We know there are tough games ahead.”