Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Nick Easter 'honoured' by England Rugby World Cup call-up

Nick Easter will appear at a third World Cup after being called up by England to replace injured number eight Billy Vunipola.

Vunipola has been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with the knee ligament strain sustained in Saturday's 28-25 defeat by Wales, an injury that will sideline him for four to six weeks.

Easter was the latest of omissions from the original 31-man squad, losing out to Ben Morgan on the day of the announcement despite excelling as a second-half replacement in the warm-up match against France in Paris.

The 37-year-old veteran, who acted as a pitchside pundit at Twickenham for the Pool A clashes with Fiji and Wales, was driving to training at Harlequins when he was told that he had been summoned to the squad's Surrey training base.

"I'm delighted that my pre-season has finally come to an end! I'd done two, one with England, played the warm-ups, and then back with Quins to do another pre-season!" Easter said.

"I'm absolutely thrilled. It's what I've kept digging in for since 2011. I came back at the start of the year, worked hard and just missed out on selection last month. The management said I was on standby and that anything can happen.

"It's very unfortunate for Billy. He played very well against Wales and was a star of the Six Nations. You'd like to be in the original squad but clearly I'm very honoured to be here."

England must topple Australia at Twickenham on Saturday if they are to avoid becoming the only host nation to fail to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup.

Easter, a veteran of the 2007 final against South Africa, was sent into international exile early in 2012 after being identified as one of the ringleaders of the failed campaign in New Zealand when the team's reputation had been stained by a series of off-field incidents.

However, his irresistible form for Quins saw him return for this year's RBS 6 Nations and never have his 52 caps been more needed with England's World Cup hinging on the outcome against the Wallabies.

"The players are looking forward to the biggest week of their lives, which it is. It's knockout rugby from here on in," Easter said.

"The most important thing for me to do is to play well. Just through my sheer number of years in the game I've been in pressure situations.

"I have an understanding of what sort of advice to give and I'd like to lend my experience if I am involved, whether it be in the 23 or the 31.

"I will try to impart some previous knowledge but it's all about 8pm this weekend. It's a new game with new situations and we have a very, very good squad who can deal with it."

Vunipola was among the stand-out performers against Wales, casting aside his error-strewn displays in the warm-up matches to rediscover the form he showed in the World Cup warm-up games.

"We're all devastated for Billy. I thought he was excellent against Wales but unfortunately he got caught under a maul," backs coach Andy Farrell said.

"These things happen and he's gone home with our best wishes. Hopefully we'll see him back playing very, very soon.

"Nick's an experienced guy who has been there and done it. He's been involved in some big games in World Cups and has been successful. He's a passionate Englishman and he's desperate for the team to do well."

Number eight Ben Morgan is available for selection after recovering from his knee injury, while optimism is growing that centre Jonathan Joseph could be involved against Australia as he battles a chest problem.

The prognosis over lock Courtney Lawes and scrum-half Ben Youngs is less positive, with the duo needing to prove their fitness from respective knee and ankle injuries over the next two days.


From Belfast Telegraph