Jamie George insists England have the firepower to cover for Billy Vunipola if his Saracens team-mate is ruled out of Saturday’s World Cup clash with France.
Vunipola failed to appear for the second-half of last weekend’s 39-10 victory over Argentina after suffering an ankle injury that required ongoing treatment on the Tokyo Stadium pitch.
The marauding number eight has undergone a scan and a definitive update is expected on Tuesday, but with a quarter-final place already secured the overwhelming priority is to ensure he is fit for the knockout phase.
If Vunipola fails to pull through then Tom Curry or Mark Wilson will deputise in the back row for the Pool C finale at International Yokohama Stadium, but his absence would still have a significant impact on England’s ball carrying.
George, the Lions hooker, insists it is up to the pack to pick up the slack if he is unavailable.
“Eddie made us aware of it when Billy came off at half-time. He said there will potentially be a little more responsibility for the other guys to step up and want the ball,” George said.
“You work towards the ball all the time anyway. Whenever he sees me and Billy as an option, the scrum-half just passes it to Billy anyway which is probably fair enough!
“If he does or doesn’t play then we’re all aware that we need to get our hands on the ball and impose ourselves physically.”
England will face either Wales or Australia in the quarter-finals depending on the outcome of their clash with France and George insists they have no preference over the identity of their opponents beyond this weekend.
“The point that’s been made to us is that the focus has to be on being as prepared as we can for France. Whatever happens off the back of that is great,” George said.
“It’s great that we’ve managed to qualify, but that’s not what we are thinking about.
“Momentum is a massive thing in a tournament like this so we want to put in another good performance and keep building towards the quarter-finals.
“Everyone is desperate to play in this game. You are always desperate to play in England-France games, they are huge matches.
“Some of my favourite memories in an England shirt have been against France. It’s also another opportunity to represent your country in a World Cup, which as we all know is very rare.”
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England capitalised on Tomas Lavanini’s sending off to clinch their place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a commanding 39-10 win over Argentina.
The Pumas were forced to play 63 minutes with only 14 men after Lavanini was dismissed for a high tackle on Owen Farrell.
Tries from Jonny May, Elliot Daly, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie were enough to put the Red Rose into the next round.
Here’s our key talking points from Tokyo:
ENGLAND GET JOB DONE
It wasn’t a classic by any means, instead being more of a scrappy affair, but England secured a bonus point and it is another step on their path to lifting a first Webb Ellis Trophy since 2003.
There was a number of strong individual displays from the likes of Sam Underhill, Ford and May, however on a collective level, there were too many frustrating errors mixed with moments of magic and control on a humid night in the Japanese capital.
Eddie Jones loves talking about fitness and speed – two of the buzz words commonly used during his reign as head coach. For the Australian, it is all about playing a high-tempo game that the opposition can’t deal with.
Argentina tried to dominate the forwards battle, but England weathered the early storm and retained their discipline and composure against a poor Pumas side.
A win is a win, but England need to stay well structured and patient against France in their final group match, and continue building momentum ahead of the knock-out stages.
The trio of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi is the best available to England if they have front-foot ball.
Although the victory over Argentina was a poor contest, this line is going to be crucial in the latter stages of the competition.
In terms of being able to play on top with minimal time and space, especially when kicking is such a big factor in Japan, the current 10, 12 and 13 combination is the best they have.
Ford produced one of his best performances for England in recent times, scoring a try, distributing quality ball and showing pin-point accuracy from the boot.
Farrell, meanwhile, had an off-day from the tee, with four straight misses, but he stepped up in the second half with four successful kicks as well as some nice moments on the ball.
Outside the totemic England captain, Tuilagi didn’t put a foot wrong and his tackle on Pablo Matera was among his stand-out plays from a dour contest.
It’s hard to believe the Pumas compete in the Rugby Championship and 11 of their starting XV against England play on the same club team as well.
It didn’t look like that at all on Saturday.
A despondent Argentina struggled and progressively lost shape and cohesion as the game wore on. They looked out on their feet after the break and could not threaten a powerful England defence, instead collapsing under the intensity of the Red Rose’s vast array of attacks.
Argentina tried to seduce England away from their gameplan and into an arm-wrestle. It worked at times but they ended up on the losing side of the battle on each occasion.
The Pumas weren’t able to live with England’s fitness and speed and, while many thought the forwards battle would be a decisive factor, Mario Ledesma’s men wilted under the immense pressure of the winner’s boisterous pack, conceding three second half tries.
They did push hard late on, and were duly rewarded for their efforts with a try from centre Matias Moroni on 71 minutes. But it was too little too late.
Discipline is key in rugby and Lavanini’s high tackle on Farrell was a hugely deserved red card. Trailing 5-3, it took the edge and excitement from the match with Argentina reduced to 14 men after 18 minutes.
While much of the talk on social media was how it should have been just a yellow card, it was a perfectly justified red.
Lavanini made no real attempt to go low on the tackle and his shoulder connected straight with Farrell’s head. Even if the Saracens man didn’t dip forward, Lavanini still would have met his throat with force. Referee Nigel Owens made the right call.
It was top quality refereeing from Owens who, if Wales don’t reach the final, should be an absolute must for the decider.
Australia bounced back from their defeat to Wales with a 45-10 victory over Uruguay in Oita, but the Wallabies’ tackling was again in the spotlight.
Reece Hodge is currently serving a three-match ban for a dangerous tackle in his side’s World Cup opener against Fiji, while coach Michael Cheika claimed “I don’t know the rules anymore” after Samu Kerevi was penalised following a collision with Rhys Patchell in Tokyo last week.
But Cheika’s side played half of the opening 40 minutes with 14 men against Uruguay, after Adam Coleman and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto were shown yellow cards for high tackles, while Kurtley Beale was perhaps fortunate to avoid a third.
Australia chalked up a dominant victory nonetheless, Jordan Petaia becoming the youngest Wallaby to score at a World Cup and Tevita Kuridrani and Dane Haylett-Petty touching down twice apiece as they ran in seven tries to go top of Pool D by two points, having played one game more than second-placed Wales.
Australia took only six minutes to score their first, finding space wide on the right to tee up Haylett-Petty for a simple touchdown in the corner, Christian Lealiifano adding the extras.
Uruguay, playing their third match in only 11 days, responded with a Felipe Berchesi penalty in front of the posts and they had a man advantage soon after, when Coleman was sent to the sin bin for his tackle on Rodrigo Silva.
Michael Hooper was held up on the line after being hauled down by Tomas Inciarte, but 19-year-old Petaia burst through Uruguay’s defensive line to stretch the Australian advantage just as they returned to their full complement.
The Wallabies were quickly back down to 14 men after Salakaia-Loto was himself penalised for another high tackle, but Petaia showed some neat footwork to step off his wing and release Kuridrani for Australia’s third try, although a seemingly straightforward kick brought Lealiifano’s first miss of the match.
Inciarte was then denied a try by the TMO just short of half-time after Manuel Diana was found to be offside.
Petaia did not return for the second half, but Kuridrani wrapped up the bonus point six minutes into the second half, when he exploited a gap in the Uruguay defence to race for the line and Lealiifano rediscovered his kicking form.
Jack Dempsey bounced through two tackles to tee up replacement Will Genia for Australia’s fifth, before James Slipper scored his first Wallabies try in his 94th Test.
Haylett-Petty completed the scoring for Australia with his second of the match, but some late pressure from the South Americans saw Diana claim a consolation try, Berchesi taking Uruguay to double figures from the tee.
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