England trio on six-strong shortlist for World Rugby player of the year
England have received further recognition for a glory-laden 2016 after Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje were included on World Rugby's six-strong shortlist for player of the year.
The winner will be announced in London on Sunday night amid an unprecedented level of Red Rose interest in the prestigious awards that could see Itoje also crowned breakthrough player of the year, an achievement that would complete a unique double for the 22-year-old lock.
Eddie Jones had already been announced as a contender for coach of the year, while England's Grand Slam triumph and 3-0 series whitewash of Australia see them compete for team of the year.
Completing the list of nominees for player of the year published on Monday afternoon are Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip, who started Saturday's historic 40-29 victory over New Zealand in Chicago, and All Blacks Dane Coles and Beauden Barrett.
Itoje, Vunipola and Farrell have played starring roles in England amassing a 10-Test winning run, nine of them falling under the guidance of Jones, and all three were also involved in Saracens' march to a European and Aviva Premiership double last season.
The last and only time an Englishman won the award was Jonny Wilkinson in 2003.
"It is testament to the current strength of the men's and women's 15s game that there was so much competition for these prestigious awards," World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said.
"There is class in abundance with New Zealand's Barrett and Coles, England's Vunipola, Itoje and Farrell and Ireland's Heaslip. There is also a great mix of experienced, proven campaigners and exciting young talent."
England received more pleasing news on Monday in the form of a positive update on Courtney Lawes' knee injury.
Lawes was a late withdrawal from two Northampton matches last month due to bruising on the joint and had been given until Tuesday to prove his fitness for Saturday's clash with South Africa at Twickenham.
But the 27-year-old's recovery has progressed well and he is set to resume his World Cup second partnership alongside Joe Launchbury in the injury-enforced absence of Maro Itoje and George Kruis.
"Courtney has taken part in training this morning (Monday) and will take part in training this afternoon so we expect him to be fit," defence coach Paul Gustard said.
Mako Vunipola arrived at last week's training camp in Portugal with a hip problem but that has also been resolved and England have a fully-fit 34-man squad to select from for the Springboks.
"Mako has been training too. We're in a good state of health and ready to continue our preparations for South Africa," Vunipola said.
England will name their matchday 23 to face the Springboks on Tuesday night when those members of the 34-strong squad not required for Twickenham will be sent back to their clubs.
The biggest area of uncertainty is at openside where Nathan Hughes, Teimana Harrison and Tom Wood are competing to start, while on the wings Semesa Rokoduguni and Jonny May are favourites to line up in the Old Mutual Wealth series opener.