England begin the final countdown to their pivotal World Cup opener against Argentina confronted by a number of injury concerns and suspensions that will shape their selection.
Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler, George Martin, Elliot Daly and Henry Arundell have been receiving treatment while Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola are banned for the Pool D showdown in Marseille.
England enter the match on the back of five defeats in six Tests and head coach Steve Borthwick faces important calls in several key positions, three of which the PA news agency examines here.
Sinckler had been seen as a shoo-in for the number three jersey but a combination of his pectoral injury and the preference for Will Stuart early on in the Summer Nations Series has now placed a giant question mark over the position. England’s scrum has not been as solid as in the Six Nations, with Stuart failing to make the most of his three successive starts, and even if Sinckler is passed fit to face the Pumas, his lack of minutes last month will surely count against him. The final option in the squad is veteran Dan Cole and he at least has a start against Fiji under his belt.
Likely pick: Will Stuart
Alex Mitchell was unfortunate to miss out on selection in the original 33-man squad after injecting tempo into England’s game during his replacement appearances in the Six Nations, but Jack van Poortvliet’s ankle injury has propelled him into contention. The dynamic Northampton half-back was one of the few positives to emerge from a chastening 30-22 defeat by Fiji and if Borthwick wants to broaden the team’s horizons he would be the ideal pick. Danny Care provides similar tempo and would be a lively alternative, while Ben Youngs is the slowest of the trio but is valued for his game management.
Likely pick: Ben Youngs
Entering the build-up to the World Cup it was unthinkable that Freddie Steward’s place in the starting XV could be challenged but that is the prospect facing the towering Leicester Tiger. Recent moments of fallibility under the high ball, combined with his limited contribution to a pedestrian attack, have seen Marcus Smith emerge as a genuine option in the number 15 jersey. Smith’s replacement appearances against Ireland and Fiji emboldened England’s counter-attack and for now the Harlequins fly-half may have found his best route into the team. How he would stand up to a barrage of high balls is the great unknown, however.
Likely pick: Freddie Steward