- England Head Coach says Cole injury is a blow but backs Wilson
- Lancaster also outlines qualities Sam Burgess brings to union
Stuart Lancaster has not attempted to downplay the significance of Dan Cole’s RBS 6 Nations-ending injury, but is completely confident that David Wilson can be a more than adequate replacement at tight head.
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Cole was ruled out of the remainder of the Championship on Sunday, with England announcing he was suffering from a bulging disc in his neck that was trapping a nerve. Given the Leicester Tiger has appeared in all but two Tests of Lancaster’s 23-match tenure, the news is a sizeable setback.
Immense durability had seen the 26 year-old clock up a phenomenal total of 1,412 minutes across 20 games for club and country so far this season, and the England Head Coach needed no reminder of his prop’s influence.
“He’s a British and Irish Lion tight head,” Lancaster said. “As everybody knows, in a specialist position like that you need quality. He’s played virtually every minute of every game I’ve been in charge of and has been a mainstay of the pack. It’s really disappointing news.
“When you play in a position like that there are obviously going to be wear and tear on your body. The good thing is that we’ve seen this early. It’s not something that’s prevented him from playing, it’s an accumulation. If we give him a rest now and get it sorted, it can prolong his career beyond 2019.
“Dan is seeing another specialist tomorrow so we will know more then, but we are going to let nature take its course and let it heal on its own. We’ll have to wait and see whether he makes the New Zealand tour or not – I would suggest he will be out for weeks rather than months.
“Hopefully he’ll make Leicester’s end of season and our tour. If he doesn’t, we have other players to look at and develop in that position.”
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Ahead of Ireland’s visit to Twickenham on Saturday, the immediate challenge is to find a replacement to wear the number three shirt. Sale Sharks youngster Henry Thomas has been on the bench for the clashes with France and Scotland in recent weeks, but David Wilson’s return to fitness has been extremely timely.
The Bath Rugby man started against Exeter Chiefs on Saturday and, with 31 caps to his name, has the expertise and know-how to take on Cian Healy and the rest of Joe Schmidt’s scrum.
“He earned his start on merit against Argentina in the autumn and that was on the back of a strong tour of South America in the summer,” Lancaster added. “He’d had a consistent run of games for Bath and then played extremely well in the Barbarians game.
“He was one of our stand-out players on that tour – the scrum was excellent and he was a big part of it. He’s very experienced, knows all the systems and structures. You need all the experience you can get in that position and we’re confident he’ll be able to slot right in.”
Lancaster also commented on confirmation that rugby league star Sam Burgess will be joining Bath at the end of the Australian domestic campaign in October from National Rugby League outfit Sydney Rabbitohs.
A close observer of Burgess’ displays, Lancaster met the 25 year-old Yorkshireman on a visit Down Under last year and, while insisting how tough it would be to complete a rise to international honours before Rugby World Cup 2015, outlined the qualities of the world rugby’s latest cross-code convert.
“His leadership and mental toughness stood out for me,” he said. “It’s his ability to want the ball when the game is on the line. His performances in the Rugby League World Cup showed that – he leads by example on the training field and also on the pitch.
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“There are a lot of hurdles for him to overcome first. He needs to learn the game, play club rugby and earn the right to play for England. There are some good players ahead of him and he’ll have to earn the right to get into the team.
“My suggestion would be that by the 2015 year he will be player club rugby at Bath and will need to earn the right to be in the World Cup training squad.”
Finally, Lancaster made an enticing comparison between Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams, the Kiwi code-hopper whose all-action, offloading game featured in New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup triumph.
“They are both rugby league forwards but potentially rugby league backs. We’ll wait and see how it plays out. He’s certainly got the attributes of Sonny Bill in terms of his ability to break the line and take on people defensively.
“It’s great to bring that sort of player back into England – I know he wanted to return home. I’m sure he’ll settle in at Bath and we’ll go from there.”
Hear Lancaster's thoughts on the challenge of facing Ireland on RFU.com tomorrow morning