England yesterday received mixed news on the injury front after Dylan Hartley and Elliot Daly were declared fit to face Ireland only for Courtney Lawes and Nathan Hughes to be effectively ruled out of the summer tour to South Africa.
Hartley is set to return as the team’s captain and hooker for the final round of the NatWest Six Nations at Twickenham having missed the 22-16 defeat by France because of a tight calf.
British & Irish Lions winger Daly has recovered from the foot injury sustained in Paris, enabling him to continue on the left wing against Joe Schmidt’s newly-crowned champions.
Defence coach Paul Gustard said: “Dylan and Elliot were part of training (yesterday).
“We were monitoring them for the first couple of days, but took part (yesterday). They’re available for selection.”
The outlook on Lawes and Hughes is far less positive, however, with the back five forwards scheduled to undergo surgery to repair ligament damage this week.
Hughes re-injured the knee that was hurt earlier in the season – forcing him out for eight weeks in a spell that encompassed the opening two rounds of the Six Nations – after Joe Launchbury and Francois Trinh-Duc fell onto his left leg at the Stade de France.
Lawes managed to finish the game that ceded the title to Ireland with a round to spare despite his own knee complaint, but he has also been ruled out for 14 weeks, a fortnight longer than the rehabilitation period predicted for Hughes.
The time frame for their recoveries all but ends their hopes of being involved in the three Tests scheduled against the Springboks in June.
“We’re really disappointed. We wish them the best for their recovery, we’ve got close links with the players individually and we’ll be in touch with their physios so we’re part of their rehab process,” Gustard said.
“It’s an opportunity for somebody else. People heal at different rates so we’ll assess their availability for South Africa as the injuries heal I guess.”
England will name their team to face Ireland this morning with head coach Eddie Jones planning at least three changes.
Hartley’s expected return will see Jamie George drop to the bench and Owen Farrell relieved of the captaincy he held against France.
With Lawes and Hughes in the treatment room, James Haskell and Sam Simmonds are likely to be promoted from the bench into the back row alongside Chris Robshaw.
Prop Dan Cole and fly-half George Ford are also under pressure for their places in the team following a string of below-par displays in this Six Nations.
England have denied a conflict of interest after one of the officials for their game with Ireland refereed a squad training session yesterday.
Marius van der Westhuizen will run one of the touchlines at Twickenham on Saturday with Angus Gardner taking charge the match.
World Rugby permits referees to assist players and coaches with their understanding of the laws and their interpretation, and as a result an official oversees live training at England’s Surrey training base on a weekly basis.
It is forbidden for an official to help a team if they are to referee them during the tournament, but as van der Westhuizen will act as an assistant referee only no rule has been broken.
Asked if using the South African was appropriate given his presence at Twickenham on Saturday, Gustard said: “Why wouldn’t it be?
“So they (Ireland) will be questioning his integrity? You could see it the other way, couldn’t you? What if it goes against us.
“This had been long in the pipeline. It is all part of understanding different referees, how they referee things.”