With England’s first match in the Rugby World Cup just three weeks away, we take a look at the star players who will be key to their Webb Ellis trophy prospects in Japan.
OWEN FARRELL (27)
Farrell has been in impeccable form since the Six Nations and his on-field presence is a threat to opposition. Apart from his solid kicking and accurate distribution, he sets the tone for England’s defensive defiance and, if not selected at 10, you can bet he’ll produce a stellar effort at 12.
A central figure and classy player.
MANU TUILAGI (28)
A man most players would not like to have to come up against. The Leicester player is a wrecking ball through any defence and an unrivalled weapon in the midfield. He has feet like Cinderella and can use his deft touch to put his outside man in favourable attacking positions.
MAKO VUNIPOLA (28)
Vunipola produced a performance for the ages against Ireland in the Six Nations, but injury has curtailed his impact over recent months. A devastating performer in the loose, the Saracens man shows soft hands, thunderous carries and even jinky side steps when in possession.
Let’s hope he stays fully fit in Japan. A colossus of a player.
MARO ITOJE (24)
A quality footballer who consistently produces big numbers each game. Itoje is a serious breakdown threat and does all the quiet work as loudly as possible.
If a Lions team was to be selected tomorrow, the Saracens man would be one of the first six names on the team sheet. He has the athleticism and brings immense physicality to the contest. Scary to think he is still only 24.
BILLY VUNIPOLA (26)
The 28-year-old has the priceless ability to get his side on the front foot, whether it’s exploding off the back of scrums, carrying or simply hauling down opposition attackers.
One could look worldwide and still not find a better No8 than the Saracens stalwart. Vunipola hums with godliness and will be a vital cog in Jones’ potential World Cup-winning machine.
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Jonny May hopes England room-mate Ruaridh McConnochie avoids any fresh mishaps that will deny him a third opportunity to make his Test debut.
Hip and hamstring injuries saw McConnochie withdrawn from the starting XV on the eve of the home and away World Cup warm-up Test against Wales last month, but the Bath wing is poised to feature against Italy in Newcastle on Friday.
Eddie Jones will announce his team for the final match of the build-up to Japan 2019 on Wednesday morning and is also expected to name Anthony Watson at full-back.
Occupying the opposite wing to sevens specialist McConnochie, who won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics, will be the player with whom he has been rooming in camp.
May said: “It’s been tough for Ruaridh. He was upset on the Fridays before we played Wales. Other than that he’s just got on with it.
“The people around you have an influence on you so for him not to mope around is a credit to him.
“That’s probably one of the reasons Eddie likes him. Even if he’s not playing, he’s still adding to the group.
“I’m really excited for him to get out on the pitch. It must have been difficult for him but he’s ready. Once he gets out on the pitch he’ll do what he does.
“He’s fit and he’s strong. Maybe that’s a sevens thing or Maybe that’s just him. We haven’t done much contact stuff here but he breaks tackles because he’s used to those one-on-ones.
“I’ve told him to ‘look after yourself, be smart, don’t push it’. If we wants a chat before the game then I’ll help him the best I can. He’s here for a reason.
“He’s had a brilliant season with Bath, got experience at an Olympic Games and he’s a really great guy. He’s going to do well.”
Elliot Daly has been an ever-present at full-back since last summer’s tour to South Africa but having started all three warm-up matches he is due a rest, opening the door for Watson to make his fourth appearance in the position.
An Achilles injury that ruled him out of England contention for 17 months finally cleared up in time for the double header against Wales.
“Anthony is looking really good off the back of a long, long injury. He’s potentially at full-back so I’m really excited for him,” May said.
“We train together all the time. All the back three meetings are always together. No matter who is playing, we’ll always stick to the same framework.
“Of course each individual’s different so it’s about reacting to the guys around you.”
Henry Slade faces the prospect of entering the World Cup without any game time in the bank after failing to train fully at England’s camp in Treviso on Tuesday.
The Exeter outside centre has been troubled by a knee injury that forced him to sit out both games against Wales and the rout of Ireland.
He took ownership of the number 13 jersey during last summer’s tour to South Africa and has been first choice since until injury struck.
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Jack Nowell’s build-up to the World Cup has suffered another setback after he was forced to have his appendix removed at England’s training camp in Treviso.
The Exeter wing spent four nights in hospital after first experiencing pain upon arrival in north east Italy last Wednesday.
An operation was completed that same night and he was released on Sunday to continue his recovery.
Nowell has yet to make an appearance in the three World Cup warm-up games staged so far this summer as he recovers from the ankle injury sustained in the Gallagher Premiership final.
He will not be involved in Friday’s send-off against Italy at St James’ Park either, leaving the tournament opener against Tonga on September 22 in Sapporo as his likely comeback match.
“Jack was sick. He had appendicitis and came out of hospital yesterday. He’s nice and hungry! He’s in good spirits and is back running,” defence coach John Mitchell said.
“It’s a sickness that you can’t deal with too much and you lose a bit of weight, but we back Jack. It’s about being supportive and making sure he gets healthy.
“His general ankle progression is in line with where he needs to be. He’s right on target for us. I don’t know how much weight he’s lost but he looks lean.”
Nowell’s Exeter team-mate Henry Slade appears increasingly unlikely to play against Italy as he he continues his recovery from a knee injury.
Slade has also missed the double-header against Wales and rout of Ireland to confront him with the prospect of entering the World Cup without a minute of game time in the bank since the Premiership final on June 1.
Tuesday is England’s main practice session ahead of the visit of the Azzurri on Friday and Slade will need to prove his fitness if he is to have any chance of being involved.
Mako Vunipola’s rehabilitation from a hamstring problem is progressing on schedule, leaving him with another five to six days of recovery time.
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