England were last night on Monday waiting on the result of a scan on Mako Vunipola after he suffered an ankle injury against France on Sunday. The loosehead prop damaged it in the 44th minute of the thumping victory over the French and his fitness is a concern with their grand slam eliminator against Wales coming up on Saturday week.
Having hobbled off the pitch Vunipola was later seen with an ice pack strapped to his left ankle and England will continue to assess the 28-year-old before confirming the extent of the injury. Eddie Jones will hope that, with an extra week to prepare for the trip to Cardiff, Vunipola is available, not least because of the vastly impressive performances he has produced against Ireland and France.
In Dublin he was voted the official man of the match after making 27 tackles and 11 carries against Ireland in a performance described by Eddie Jones as “outstanding”. He was similarly prominent against France and, while Jones has Ellis Genge and Alec Hepburn in the wings, Vunipola’s absence in Cardiff would be a colossal blow. He missed out on the autumn internationals with a calf injury but his return to the starting XV along with his brother Billy and Manu Tuilagi has been a key part of England’s transformation during the Six Nations.
Indeed the scrum-half, Ben Youngs, believes that England are playing better now than they have at any stage in Jones’s three-year tenure. “From what I remember since I’ve been involved with Eddie, yes,” he said. “Probably not higher intensity, just more consistent within it. Maybe that’s maturity, personnel. It’s certainly happy out there at the moment and I think you can probably see that from 1-23, when guys are out there, they’re thriving and absolutely loving what they’re doing. We are going to embrace and enjoy the big two-week build-up to Wales. We have a few days to get away from camp and spend time with the families. Then, when we get in on Wednesday, we will build it up.”
France, meanwhile, have been plunged further into disarray, with the scrum-half, Morgan Parra, taking aim at the coaching methods of Jacques Brunel, whose decision to select two centres on the wings and a wing at full-back has been heavily criticised. “I think that we are capable of doing what the English do, but are we working on this during training? I think we don’t work on it enough, even not at all,” he said. “Yet these are very simple things that are today part of high-level rugby. We can do this. But do we work on it? No.”
The French rugby newspaper Midi Olympique on Monday ran a banner headline that read “Waterloo” and reported that “a wind of rebellion rises again”. One unnamed player told it that “nobody knew which position to play” in the second half. “It was chaos,” he said. “We were lost on the pitch and tried to ask the bench.”