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Problems mounting for England as World Cup hopes hang in balance

Published 27/09/2015

Stuart Lancaster is facing a potential injury crisis ahead of the decisive Australia clash
Stuart Lancaster is facing a potential injury crisis ahead of the decisive Australia clash

England enter the decisive week of Stuart Lancaster's reign nursing a potentially-damaging injury list and with a disciplinary question mark over flanker Tom Wood.

Wales' stunning 28-25 victory at Twickenham has left the hosts' World Cup quest teetering on the brink of collapse, with their hopes of reaching the knockout stage now resting on the outcome of Saturday's clash with Australia.

The plan of naming the side early in the week is likely to be abandoned as the medical team works to restore number eights Billy Vunipola and Ben Morgan, second row Courtney Lawes, scrum-half Ben Youngs and centre Jonathan Joseph to fitness.

Adding to the problems that have mounted at a critical juncture is the possible citing of Wood for an incident that forced Wales full-back Liam Williams from the field with concussion.

Wood, who has apologised to Williams, will know by Monday morning if he must face a hearing, while Lancaster has reported a mixed outlook on his wounded quintet.

"I would say 50-50 for all three of Billy, Courtney and Ben Youngs, although with Ben maybe slightly better , so let's call it 60-40. It's very early still," Lancaster said.

"We're optimistic on Ben Morgan. With Joseph we are going to have to wait and see how he trains or if he can train on Tuesday.

"We want to give Joseph the best chance possible because if he was fit, he'd be a guy we want in the team."

If Vunipola and Morgan are ruled out and Wood is cited and subsequently suspended, England will be facing a crisis in the back row with Chris Robshaw and James Haskell their only recognised options in the position, although Sam Burgess has played at blindside flanker for Bath.

Williams was concussed and carried from the pitch after being struck on the head by Wood's shin when the Northampton flanker attempted to kick a loose ball towards the Welsh line. Wood insists the action was reckless but not deliberate.

"It's something I'm not proud of but there was no intent there," Wood said.

"It's hard to watch when someone is in that condition on the floor. We all take our turn at that. I'm sorry for the outcome 100 per cent."

England will conduct a review of one of the most painful defeats in their history knowing that at 10 points ahead with half an hour remaining they should have emerged comfortable winners from a match they dominated.

Repeated indiscipline at the breakdown allowed Wales to claw their way back into contention through the boot of Dan Biggar, even as Warren Gatland's men contended with a sickening series of second-half injuries.

There was a horrible inevitability about the final 10 minutes as momentum swung behind the courageous Welsh, with Gareth Davies capitalising on poor defence to cross under the posts before Biggar landed the winning penalty with five minutes remaining.

"I don't think we choked. What we did do is allow Wales to stay in the game," Lancaster said.

"We can't be sitting feeling sorry for ourselves, we've got to roll our sleeves up and get stuck in.

"On Monday morning when the players come in they will be ready to go straight away. I am ready to go and If I am ready to go, I can guarantee they will be."

"Everything rests on Australia, it's knockout rugby. Not in the slightest will it be hard to pick up the players."

Captain Robshaw opted for an attacking line-out that was bundled out of play instead of a shot at goal when awarded a penalty close to the touchline in the closing moments.

Farrell had kicked perfectly all night and a successful attempt would have resulted in a draw that could have proved decisive come Pool A's final reckoning. Lancaster exonerated Robshaw of blame, however.

"We back the captain and we back all the players. I'm certainly not going to sit here and hang anyone out to dry," Lancaster said.

"You've got to back all your players because otherwise you've undermined the fabric of your team, and we're all in it together."

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