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England wait on Attwood

England's second row resources for Saturday's autumn opener against New Zealand at Twickenham could be further depleted by the possible unavailability of Dave Attwood.

Only hours after Joe Launchbury was ruled out of the entire QBE Series with a neck problem, head coach Stuart Lancaster revealed that Attwood's fiance Bridget is expecting their first child.

Attwood is due to start alongside Courtney Lawes as England seek to end a four-match losing streak against the All Blacks, but Lancaster has been forced to draw up an alternative plan.

Mindful that the in-form Bath lock may need to be at his partner's side as the New Zealand clash looms, the uncapped George Kruis and Graham Kitchener will be placed on standby.

"There might be a scenario but we'll have to wait and see nearer the time. We'll have to have a plan B," Lancaster said.

"I don't think Dave can assure me when the baby is going to be due. The due date was actually last Friday, so we'll see.

"Obviously you want to be sensible about these things. You want to put the family first, but equally I know Dave's keen to play as well.

"We'll just have to wait and see how Mother Nature takes her course.

"We had the same situation with Joe Marler before the Six Nations game against Italy.

"Joe's partner went into labour before we flew to Rome so we made the decision to leave him at home. You have to react closer to the game."

England can ill-afford to lose any more locks with Launchbury and Geoff Parling, who has concussion, missing the four Tests against the All Blacks, South Africa, Samoa and Australia.

Lancaster at least takes comfort from Attwood's "exceptional" form for Bath this season, which is partly explained by the 27-year-old losing four to five kilos since returning from the summer tour to New Zealand.

"Dave and Joe are quite similar players. Dave is probably a stronger right-hand lock," Lancaster said.

"He's a very good scrummaging second row so he will add there.

"He has changed his game this season. He's lost a bit of weight and that's improved his foot speed over the floor and his ability to keep going for 80 minutes.

"He will bring a physicality to our game - not that Joe didn't, but he will add to that because of his power.

"There was a game he played for Bath a couple of weeks ago when he was the one repeatedly taking the ball into contact in the 79th and 80th minutes.

"He was still playing well right until the end and that's been the biggest change we've seen in him.

"It was Dave's decision to lose the weight. He felt he could maintain his power but become more mobile around the field."

Lancaster's team selection for Saturday is taking shape with the head coach all but confirming that Kyle Eastmond will start at inside centre and declaring Owen Farrell ready to face the world champions.

Eastmond was replaced at half-time of the third Test against New Zealand in Hamilton in June, punished for a poor defensive display, while Farrell's season has been interupted by a thigh strain.

"I had a good chat with Kyle after that particular game. As a coach when you're in that position, you have to make a change," Lancaster said.

"Unfortunately Kyle was the one we took off, but what's pleased me is that he's been defensively excellent for Bath since then, a great attacking threat and he looks confident.

"Owen has no residue of injury whatsoever, nothing he's struggling with.

"And in terms of his skill set and the way he's making his decisions and leading the group, he's exactly where he left off with us in the second Test. He'll be fine."


From Belfast Telegraph