England’s climax to the World Cup group stage against France is facing the triple threat of illness, injury and the approach of Super Typhoon Hagibis.
Captain Owen Farrell and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie have been struck down by a stomach bug, while Billy Vunipola, Jack Nowell and Joe Marler are being treated for knocks sustained in Saturday’s victory over Argentina.
But the gravest danger posed to the Pool C decider could be from one of the most aggressive typhoons ever recorded, on course to wipe out both weekend matches being played at Yokohama.
The extreme weather event had initially threatened Ireland’s crunch fixture against Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday but is now arrowing towards Tokyo and Yokohama, where it could have a significant impact on England’s all-Six Nations clash.
Hagibis has escalated from a tropical storm into a Category 5 super typhoon, with winds estimated at 160mph set to make it one of the most dramatic intensifications of any tropical cyclone since records began.
Such storms can fade and change direction and there have already been false alarms at this World Cup – but on its existing trajectory it is due to hit Tokyo and Yokohama this weekend.
Any games cancelled due to weather problems are registered as scoreless draws and would have no impact on the final standings as England and France have already qualified for the quarter-finals.
Efforts would be made to stage the game elsewhere but contingency plans have not been made public and any changes would cause havoc to the plans of travelling supporters.
Nearly 150,000 fans are due to attend the weekend’s two games at International Stadium Yokohama, including Sunday’s crunch showdown between Japan and Scotland that will help decide a ferociously competitive Pool A.
“We have no control over the weather and we have to prepare for the game and see how it goes,” attack coach Scott Wisemantel said.
“Regarding the permutation around the game and shared points, we are just concentrating on playing to win.
“I live in a bubble and I don’t know where the game would be played (if it is called off).
“One thing I have learnt in Japan is that they prepare for the worst and then usually it doesn’t eventuate.”
If Super Typhoon Hagibis fails to strike, then England’s plans still face the disruption of ranks thinned by injury and sickness.
Vunipola is the biggest concern as he continues his recovery from the twisted ankle sustained in Saturday’s bonus-point victory over Argentina, with Eddie Jones refusing to give a definitive update on his fitness.
Wisemantel confirmed that Vunipola is expected to be available for the knockout phase but insists no risks will be taken over his fitness against France.
Mark Wilson or Tom Curry will deputise for in a team that is likely to show several changes to the XV that defeated 14-man Argentina.
Jack Nowell made his comeback after four months out with an ankle problem against the Pumas but is suffering from stiffness in his left leg, while prop Joe Marler is struggling with a back problem and has also become a doubt.
The health and fitness of Farrell is worrying after he was the victim of a dangerous tackle against Argentina and what followed was a disappointing performance from the Saracens fly-half.
Wisemantel said: “The bump didn’t have any effect on him. I asked after the game and he said he felt pretty good, just a bit clunky with a few of the plays, but I thought he did outstandingly well.
“He’s a tough, competitive player who, if anything because he competes so hard, probably tries to over-rectify the situation.
“We haven’t had our final selection and we will do that tomorrow (Wednesday) evening.
“We need to look at whether it is worthwhile resting him, whether it isn’t, whether we keep it going – that is one for debate.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
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