England rate Billy Vunipola as “very likely” to be available for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Australia at Oita Stadium.
In a major lift to Eddie Jones’ men, the powerful Saracens number eight is on course to recover from the ankle injury that forced him off at half-time against Argentina 10 days ago.
Jones names his team to face the Wallabies on Thursday and Vunipola, the only player to have started all 12 of England’s Tests this year, will be an automatic selection if fit.
“Billy is progressing really well,” defence coach John Mitchell said.
“He has trained again today and we are very confident in his progression each day. He’s very likely (to be available).
“Billy is a very important player to us and a very likeable player as well. He fits well within the team.
“He loves the ball in his hand. He is very good at regaining and retaining momentum. He likes carrying the ball which is where he has his greatest influence.”
While the update over Vunipola has been positive, it appears increasingly unlikely that wing Jack Nowell will play any part in the quarter-final.
Having recovered from ankle surgery and being forced to have his appendix removed, Nowell’s comeback against the Pumas came at the cost of a hamstring injury that has prevented him from taking a full part in training.
“Jack wasn’t at training today. He is on another prescription of training and is also progressing,” Mitchell said.
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Bundee Aki will miss the rest of the Rugby World Cup after receiving a three-match ban for his red card against Samoa.
The Ireland centre was sent off in the 47-5 Pool A win over the Samoans in Fukuoka on Saturday, for a high tackle on UJ Seuteni.
Aki faced a disciplinary hearing in Tokyo on Monday night, contesting the red card decision in a bid to be available for Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand.
But the 29-year-old failed in that quest and was hit with a three-week ban, that would even rule him out of the World Cup final, should Ireland make it that far.
“The player sought to overturn the red card,” read a World Rugby statement, confirming the three-week suspension.
“Having considered all the angles of the incident, together with evidence from the player and his representatives, the committee upheld the decision of the referee.”
The independent disciplinary committee of Adam Casselden, Frank Hadden and Valeriu Toma rejected Aki’s and Ireland’s attempts to have the red card rescinded.
And that leaves head coach Joe Schmidt’s men one player short for the remainder of the tournament.
Aki would have been pushing hard for a start in Saturday’s New Zealand clash, but his absence could pave the way for fit-again Robbie Henshaw to partner Garry Ringrose in midfield.
Aki has 48 hours to appeal the decision, so has the right to launch a further challenge. But precious few attempts yield a reversal of the original ruling.
Ireland flew out specialist lawyer Derek Hegarty to Japan for Aki’s disciplinary hearing, but the William Fry partner was unable to convince the panel to overturn the red card decision.
World Rugby ruled there were no “clear and obvious mitigating factors” to account for Aki’s high tackle, and imposed an initial six-week suspension that was halved on account of the Connacht star’s good disciplinary record.
Head coach Schmidt had hinted Ireland would respect the outcome of the disciplinary hearing come what may when speaking straight after the weekend’s bonus-point win over Samoa.
“Once it’s a red card you sense a loss of control over what happens next, no matter what you try to present,” said Schmidt.
“There is a very hard line being taken and we’ll just have to accept whatever decision is made by the judiciary.”
Ireland issued a short statement in the wake of Aki’s ban, and will now weigh up whether to launch an appeal against the decision.
“The Ireland management are disappointed with the outcome of Bundee’s hearing and will review the judicial committee’s written report once received,” read the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) statement.
Josh Adams’ outstanding impression on Test rugby has left him on the verge of a Rugby World Cup record for Wales as the wing prepares for the biggest week of his career so far.
Adams has already scored five tries in Japan, putting him one behind fellow wing Shane Williams’ Wales-best mark of six, set during the 2007 tournament.
The Cardiff Blues player only made his Wales debut 20 months ago, but he averages a try every two games across 18 appearances.
And the 24-year-old showcased outstanding finishing skills with a World Cup hat-trick against Fiji five days ago, which underlined why he is such an integral part of head coach Warren Gatland’s plans.
“I was told Shane is the record holder for Wales at a World Cup with six,” Adams said.
“Fingers crossed, with three more games to go, hopefully, I can pip him. We will wait and see.”
Three more touchdowns would put him level with Jonah Lomu, Bryan Habana and Julian Savea on the record figure of eight for most tries in one World Cup.
“It wouldn’t be bad to join that list, would it?!” Adams added. “There are some legends there.
“You could argue it’s the biggest week of my career so far with playing in a World Cup quarter-final.
“I would never have said I would be standing here telling you that 18 months ago, but I am over the moon to be here.
“Selection dependent, hopefully I can get out there next Sunday and do everybody proud.”
Adams has become a key figure in the Wales set-up, and his try-scoring danger will pose a serious threat to France.
But he is also well aware of the challenge Les Bleus can offer, even though Wales have won seven of the countries’ last eight meetings.
“France are renowned for being able to turn it on, and when they do, they are extremely dangerous,” he added.
“They’ve got some quality players. At times in this competition they have looked really, really good.
“They definitely pose a threat to us, without a doubt. We have seven days now (to prepare), which is nice, especially after the four days we’ve just had (Wales played Fiji and Uruguay).”
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones has already told his players “there are 240 minutes left to do something special,” and those words struck a chord with Adams.
“When you say it like that it does put it into perspective a little bit, doesn’t it? But we’ve got a really tough 80 minutes next Sunday.
“There is no reason why this group of players can’t achieve something special.
“We’ve got belief in each other and in the squad, and I think we are all really excited moving forwards now.”