Tom Curry has been forced to abort his England comeback due to a leg injury but Courtney Lawes is in line to make his return against Wales on Saturday after being retained in Steve Borthwick’s squad. In further disappointment for England, however, Manu Tuilagi has been suspended for four weeks, raising questions as to when he will represent his country again.
England are preparing for Saturday’s fixture to go ahead despite the looming threat of strike action from the Wales squad but have been dealt a setback with Curry forced to pull out, having just returned to the fold from a hamstring injury. His twin brother Ben, who made his first England start against Scotland this month, has been called up to take his place.
Tuilagi, meanwhile, has been handed a four-week ban after picking up a red card last weekend in Sale’s defeat by Northampton. That will be reduced to three weeks provided he completes World Rugby’s tackling course and would, in theory, make him available for England’s final match of the Six Nations against Ireland. Having fallen out of the first-team picture under Borthwick, however, it is increasingly difficult to see when Tuilagi, who turns 32 in May, will next represent England. Given his popularity among the squad, his absence will be keenly felt nonetheless.
If Tom Curry’s withdrawal is a blow – the England defence coach Kevin Sinfield suggested the particular threat posed by Wales prompted Ben’s inclusion with Ben Earl and Sam Simmonds overlooked – it is softened by Lawes’s expected return. England consider him as an option at both second-row and flanker and he is expected to make a first international appearance since last summer after a season blighted by neck, glute and calf injuries.
“It’s great to have him back,” said Kevin Sinfield, the England defence coach. “Courtney has been around working with us for a couple of weeks now doing his bits behind the scenes but to have him back in training has been great. All things being well, he should be there at the weekend.”
Borthwick has retained 26 players – 10 have been sent back to their clubs with a full round of Premiership fixtures this weekend, including George Ford, who has not yet been deemed ready by England after recently returning from a long-term achilles injury. With Ollie Hassell-Collins already ruled out, Anthony Watson and Henry Arundell are competing for a place on the wing though Cadan Murley has also been retained by Borthwick.
Meanwhile, Owen Farrell has given his backing to the beleaguered Wales squad – many of whom he has played with on British & Irish Lions tours or with Saracens – and believes it could have a galvanising effect on Warren Gatland’s side, should the match go ahead.
“I know quite a lot of them and I’m sure they’re not being unreasonable with what they’re asking for,” the England captain said. “I don’t think they’re like that. To be in this situation is obviously not very pleasing for them but I am sure they will get it sorted.
“I’m sure that anyone who is going through a bit of adversity tries to use it and bring themselves closer together. As I’ve said before about this game, going down to Cardiff and playing in front of a packed house at the Principality is always a massive challenge and we’re expecting that at the weekend.”
Having played under Gatland on three Lions tour, Farrell also believes the New Zealander can use the current turbulence to his advantage. He also referenced Saracens’ relegation to the Championship for salary cap breaches as an example of how adversity can have a positive impact.
He added: “As every good coach would try to … Warren’s traditionally done pretty well with Wales on that over the years. You’d always try to use it to bring yourselves closer. I think that’ll be the case and hopefully they do get things sorted.”