Northampton and England flanker Tom Wood has been cleared to play against Wales on Saturday after overcoming a shoulder injury in the wake of England’s 19-16 win over France last weekend.
Wood played the full 80 minutes against the French but was seen leaving Twickenham with his arm in a sling, which raised concerns over his availability for England’s second round trip to Cardiff this weekend.
England defence coach Paul Gustard confirmed that Wood would be available for selection against Wales but hinted that the England coaching team aren’t entirely settled on the backrow that played in their tournament-opener against France.
“Tom’s hurt his shoulder and is in modified training to protect him, but he’s still up for selection this weekend,” said Gustard (via The Independent).
“Wednesday evening is when we meet to make our final selection calls. That’s when we’ll decide what is our best 23.”
Maro Itoje’s switch to the blindside of England’s scrum highlighted the fact that maybe the wildly talented 22-year-old would be better off staying in the second-row alongside either Joe Launchbury or Courtney Lawes, but if Itoje does rejoin the tight five, does Wood survive in a new-look backrow alongside Nathan Hughes and James Haskell, or does Jack Clifford finally assert himself into the pack after spending the majority of last season watching on from the bench?
Even in the absence of the injured Billy Vunipola and Chris Robshaw, competition for places in England’s backrow is incredibly strong with Haskell, Hughes, Wood, Clifford and Teimana Harrison all essentially vying for three starting spots among five players.
The England coaching staff are all acutely aware of their backrow dilemma but Gustard did willingly bring up Clifford’s versatility as a big factor in his possible ascension to the starting pack this weekend.
“We’ve got a few options. Whichever back row we go for in the end will be competitive and we think will be the right 23 for Wales,” Gustard said.
“Obviously Tom’s got a lot of caps, but I think it’s important, as we’ve said from February 2016, that week by week we’ll pick the best 23 for the next game.
“We said last week about Maro, the number on your back puts you in a certain position at the set piece.
“After that you’re a rugby player and for anyone in the back five of the scrum that means tackling, cleaning out and for some of them to carry.
“Jack can do all those things whether he’s got a six, seven or eight on his back.”
England will name their team to play Wales on Thursday morning as they look to extend their winning streak under Eddie Jones to 15 consecutive matches.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena