England last night took the highly unusual step of delaying their team announcement for tomorrow clash with Fiji by another 24 hours as they monitor the fitness of a trio of players.
In a break with established protocol, the starting XV and replacements bench will be named on the eve of the second autumn international at Twickenham as Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and Elliot Daly battle to prove their availability.
Mystery shrouds the nature of their ailments with England willing only to offer broad descriptions – Vunipola has ‘upper body soreness’, Hughes is struggling with a ‘lower leg injury’ and Daly has an ‘upper body injury’.
However, Hughes and Daly were able to take an active role in training on yesterday’s final session of the week.
Furthermore, Tom Wood has rejoined the squad to provide injury cover having been sent back to his club on Tuesday, although the Northampton captain is struggling with illness.
World Rugby have confirmed that England have not broken any regulations in the postponement, although from January a recently-ratified rule stating team announcements must be undertaken 48 hours before kick takes effect.
“We’ve had a really good week’s preparation, albeit a few injury concerns, which we’re trying to sort out at the moment,” said head coach Eddie Jones.
“We’ll have those sorted out (by today) so we’ll announce the team (today), which is a deviation from our normal procedure but in line with the regulations of team announcements.
“So we’re looking forward to the game and we’re going to put on a really vibrant, aggressive display.
“Bill and Nathan are still carrying knocks from the South Africa game, Elliot Daly is still carrying knocks from the previous game so we’re looking to see how they resolve themselves in the next 24 hours before we make a final decision.”
England are wrestling with uncertainty in the back row and on the left wing with the possible loss of Vunipola and Hughes.
Hughes has been earmarked for openside, but England could face Fiji with a loose trio of Chris Robshaw, Harrison and Wood.
This would force cover to be summoned from outside the squad to provide bench cover, most likely Ben Morgan.
Jonny May was rested on Tuesday and yesterday, but it was thought that Daly was the preferred choice for the left wing with his fitness issue confusing matters.
England are 1-150 favourites to extend their flawless record against Fiji to seven matches and Jones intends victory to be delivered by “boring them to death”.
The free-spirited Pacific Islanders are famed for their power, athleticism and unpredictability, so Jones predicts that success lies in the form of a structured game.
“They want to have a kava party, but you can’t join the party. We don’t want to have a kava party, we want to eat fish and chips, so we will be making sure we eat fish and chips on Saturday,” Jones said.
“You just don’t want to open the game up too much. You go anywhere in Fiji and kids are playing with the ball, they are throwing it around.
“At the age of 10 kids can throw 15m torpedo passes through their legs, so we’ve got to play a very structured, controlled, positive game.”