England reeling from loss of Anthony Watson in troubled World Cup build-up

By Sports Desk August 24, 2023

England are reeling from the loss of Anthony Watson for the entire World Cup as their troubled build-up took another ominous turn.

Head coach Steve Borthwick revealed that a complaint was being lodged with World Rugby over the “bewildering” disciplinary process that resulted in a four-match ban for captain Owen Farrell.

But of more immediate concern was the news that Watson would play no part in the tournament hosted by France because of a calf injury sustained in the 29-10 rout by Ireland.

Watson, who is currently contracted to the Rugby Football Union while he finds a new club, is a world class wing when firing and would have been a certain starter for the pivotal opener against Argentina on September 9.

Now he faces another period of rehabilitation, having battled back from long-term knee and Achilles injuries, joining ankle-injury victim Jack van Poortvliet in being ruled out of the World Cup before it has begun.

Adding to a bleak picture in the back three is news that Elliot Daly and Henry Arundell are nursing knee and back problems that prevent them from taking part in Saturday’s final warm-up fixture against Fiji.

Jonny May is set to fill the void left by Watson in the 33-man squad – that must be submitted to World Rugby on Monday – and will make his first appearance of the Summer Nations Series against the Islanders at Twickenham.

It continues a wretched week for England, who must plan for the Pumas showdown without the suspended Farrell and Billy Vunipola – at a time when they are reeling from a run of four defeat in five Tests.

“I have no doubt there’s going to be more injuries, for every team,” Borthwick said.

“We are now going though our time of having bangs and bruises and through our time of having a couple of disciplinary processes.

“Every team is going to go through it and if I could choose my time to go through it, it would probably be now rather than when we’re out in France.”

Borthwick is confident that Daly will be ready for Argentina and is equally bullish over Tom Curry’s chances of making the standout clash of Pool D in Marseille.

Curry has yet to appear in the warm-up matches because of an ankle injury sustained in training but England would be willing to propel him straight into the starting XV if he proves his fitness.

“I’ve no doubt Tom will be ready and firing and he only just missed out this week,” Borthwick said.

“He’s got two weeks before the Argentina game so I’ve got no doubt that should we decide to go that way, he’ll be ready to go.”

Courtney Lawes leads England against Fiji to win his 100th cap and Borthwick revealed that Marcus Smith was being considered as a future option at full-back in the hope of igniting the attack.

Compounding the injury problems are the respective four and three-game bans issued to Farrell and Vunipola for dangerous tackles.

Farrell was initially cleared for his high hit on Wales’ Taine Basham by a disciplinary hearing only for World Rugby to lodge an appeal that was upheld on Tuesday, resulting in his suspension.

From red card to ban, the process lasted 10 days and England have made their frustration known to World Rugby.

“Whether you’re a supporter of England or another country, everybody could see that something like this should not have gone on for that period of time,” Borthwick said.

“The first process was conducted by one of the more senior and experienced panels that handles these matters and they’ve come to a considered decision.

“Then another panel comes in and says something different. The whole process is quite bewildering.

“It’s been frustrating and there’s no doubt it’s been a distraction. But I’ll also say, we’ve got to focus on going forward. That’s what we’re doing now.”

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