LONDON: Under-fire England have rounded on their critics following the 28-25 Twickenham defeat by Wales and called on the country to get behind the team for their potentially decisive Pool A clash with Australia on Saturday.
England coach Stuart Lancaster was hit by a double blow on Monday when influential number eight Billy Vunipola was ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a knee injury and former captain Will Carling launched a fierce attack on the squad’s character.
Carling, the only player to have led England in more tests than current skipper Chris Robshaw, said Lancaster’s team struggled to take decisions against Wales because they worked in a “classroom-orientated environment” where the players were treated as “schoolboys”.
Assistant coach Andy Farrell said he was “disappointed” by the comments while wing Jonny May said Carling, who captained the side to the World Cup final in 1991, had got it wrong.
“The coaching team is the best I have ever had in my life. I could not have learned more in this environment,” May added. “We are trying our best and it is not fair to say they are like school teachers. This environment is player-led. We sit down and present to one another. We get input in training. They come to us in terms of moves. It is a much player-led environment than I am used to.
“It is a must-win game (against Australia) and the biggest week of my life and a lot of our lives. We are giving it everything and we just need everybody to get behind us and support us.”
Farrell, who won England caps in both rugby league and union, said. “Itis disappointing from someone who is not in the environment.I havebeen involved in many environments and this is as good as I have ever seen. It allows them to express themselves as leaders and as players.”
Vunipola has left the England camp with strained knee ligaments which Lancaster said would take up to six weeks to recover. He has been replaced by 37-year-old Nick Easter, who just failed to make the original 31-man squad. The number eight had been working at the World Cup as a TV pundit for the stadium presentation coverage for fans at Twickenham.
Injury woe for Wallabies as two key forwards are forced out of tournament
Australia have suffered a double blow in the build-up to their critical World Cup game with England with influential forwards Wycliff Palu and Will Skelton forced out of the tournament on Tuesday through injury.
Palu, the Wallabies’ respected number eight, has probably played his last game for his country after the hamstring injury that forced him to come off at half-time in the 65-3 win against Uruguay on Sunday.
Lock Skelton was taken off midway through the second half of that game with what had initially seemed an innocuous shoulder problem, but scans showed a pectoral injury that will require him to see a surgeon on his return to Australia.
Already well-stocked in back row strength, Australia have decided against a like-for-like replacement for Palu, with coach Michael Cheika opting instead to bring in a third hooker, James Hanson, who is playing in Australia.
Sam Carter, a lock who plays in France for Bordeaux-Begles, will replace Skelton. He had missed the Wallabies’ 31-man squad due to a knee injury but is back to full fitness.
Hanson has 10 Wallabies caps. Carter, who made his debut in 2014, has 12. Cheika said he had complete faith in the duo to fill the void.
“Wycliff has been a very, very remarkable player for Australia and it’s more than likely the last game he’s played for Australia. So it’s a sad day in that regard,” Cheika said, paying tribute to the 57-times capped Palu who made his debut against England nine years ago.
“The way he came back from injury to play in this tournament has been very special for the players. He’s got a quiet but strong influence in the team and he’ll be sorely missed.
“For Will, it’s his first World Cup, so it’s a real shame because he was having a really good impact.
“But Hanson and Carter have been involved in the squad pretty much throughout. We’re pretty lucky that we’ve got a player like Carter who was almost a first choice not that long ago before he got injured and Hanson, who’s got plenty of experience and had a great Super Rugby season last year.”
The news of the Australian double blow comes less than 24 hours after England, who have to win Saturday’s game at Twickenham or face the prospect of an early exit from their home tournament, announced that their own number eight, Billy Vunipola, had to withdraw from the tournament with a knee injury.