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England confirm Itoje contingency plan and how long they will wait

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Assistant coach Matt Proudfoot has claimed that England are “really optimistic” that Maro Itoje will play against Ireland on Saturday – even though he missed Friday’s eve-of-game captain’s run training session at Twickenham. The second row took ill overnight and it was decided to leave him at the squad’s Pennyhill Park base rather than have him train ahead of the game like the rest of the squad.

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“He was a little bit sick overnight so we are giving him an opportunity to recover, just cautious today with him but we are really optimistic he will be fine tomorrow,” insisted scrum coach Proudfoot at a post-training media briefing where he was asked if Itoje would still play for England this weekend.   

The assistant went on to outline the contingency England have in place should Itoje not recover in time to take his place at lock alongside Charlie Ewels. “Charlie and Joe Launchbury ran in the second row,” he said about how the team adapted training on Friday without Itoje. 

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“We have (Ollie) Chessum in the squad as 25, so he ran there as well, and we have Nick Isiekwe on standby, so we are well covered. Those players have been in the group right the way through the competition so we are well covered there. 

“Maro is a world-class player and his X-factor is the amount of pressure he can apply. But when you have got a guy who got 80 caps who can fill that void, that is probably Joe Launchbury’s speciality, his physicality. That is the opportunity that lies there for us.”

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No time deadline has been set for Itoje to come right following his sickness. “I don’t think there is a check he needs to go through, it’s just more of a precautionary thing that we didn’t get him to train but, as I said, we are very optimistic that he will play.”

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Proudfoot explained that England’s planning for the championship factored in late hitches such as a player like Itoje not training the day before a match. “That was part of our planning coming into this, that we knew it was a reality of life (that people could miss out) and we put things in place that if things happened at late stages we were well covered.

“Everything we do we do it with extra players in the squad until the Tuesday, so we are well covered in our detail and it is just a great opportunity. When players train that hard and they get an opportunity they tend to perform. If that is the case we are well-prepped and it’s a great opportunity for the team to be more resilient and grow from it.”

Proudfoot added that fears over the fitness of Kyle Sinckler have now also been fully allayed. The tighthead didn’t train in the earlier part of the week, but he has since come right and is set to play at No3 in the Guinness Six Nations round four game. “Kyle fully trained today, he had a great training session, looked really good. He trained yesterday [Thursday], trained today – he is 100 per cent fit.”

One person who definitely won’t be at Twickenham on Saturday is Proudfoot’s fellow assistant coach, Richard Cockerill, who has had to go into isolation after he failed a virus test on Friday. His absence, though, hasn’t caused much disruption.  

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“Same as our playing group, we have put a lot of contingencies in place. Richard and I work really closely together with the forwards, me the scrum and him the lineouts. We are really aligned in that. 

“It is late in the week so a lot of the planning and the detail has been done and we work together through that. I feel for Richard. He has done really well. He is a big part of who the pack is and we just feel for him. We had a good chat this morning, he has got a few sniffles but he is not too bad.”

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