England will discover on Monday if they are facing a fully blown back row injury crisis for their decisive final Test against Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground.
Eddie Jones’ tourists kept the series alive with a 25-17 victory in Brisbane but a hard-fought contest saw Maro Itoje and Sam Underhill leave the field after being concussed during heavy collisions.
Itoje has been definitely ruled out of Saturday’s decider and a clearer picture over Underhill, who has a history of concussion including in this season, will emerge on Monday.
In addition, medics are assessing the rib injury that forced Jack Willis to withdraw from the bench for the second Test and he could also be reduced to the role of spectator.
It comes after Tom Curry returned home last week having being concussed in the opener in Perth and potentially leaves Lewis Ludlam and Courtney Lawes as the only front-line flankers in the squad.
Nick Isiekwe can fill the role but is primarily a second row where resources are also stretched due to Itoje’s unavailability and Charlie Ewels leaving the tour in the first week because of a knee issue.
Jones did consider calling up London Irish’s Tom Pearson when the extent of Curry’s head injury became known, but so far he has kept faith with his original touring party and he is unlikely to summon any replacements at this late stage.
“I don’t think there will be the necessity to do that, from what I can gather at the moment,” Jones said.
England’s swagger returned as they left Brisbane for Sydney on Sunday and, while the management conduct their back row roll call, the squad will be restoring depleted energy reserves in an ocean pool.
“We’d need to freshen the players up because it was a tough game. We’re down at Coogee Beach which is the best place in the world to freshen up,” Jones said.
“We’re at Wylie’s Baths on Monday, which used to be the old rugby league haunt. They’d drink on the weekend and then sort themselves out at Wylie’s Baths on the Monday.
“I’m just hopeful that we don’t have any rugby league behaviour! We’re public school rugby boys, we behave ourselves. We’ll have good recovery on Monday and get back to training on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Australia were taken apart up front in the first half of a compelling clash on Saturday but they fought back from a 17-0 deficit to 22-17 only for momentum to stall amid a succession of errors.
Apart from their early dominance, England could also take satisfaction from the resolve shown in the face of determined Wallabies resistance.
“It was a pressure game. We got into a situation where we got out early but they came back,” Jones said.
“There was always going to be an equalisation of the game and we had to channel hard to keep our composure and keep finding a way to go forward.
“That was a good dress rehearsal for a World Cup semi-final because that game was like a World Cup semi-final.
“Australia will work hard now. What are they going to be doing next week? They’re going to be doing maul defence and scrum defence and they’ll be improved, so we’ve got to find a way to get better.”