England sweat over star player's fitness
INJURY UPDATE: Maro Itoje is being assessed by medics after the England lock hobbled out of training to give Eddie Jones a scare ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Italy.
Itoje was on course to make his comeback from ligament damage sustained to his right knee against Ireland on February 2 but the setback in training on Tuesday has placed that in doubt.
The imposing British and Irish Lion was performing a forwards drill when he appeared to hurt the same joint as he made a side-step and after falling to the floor in obvious pain he limped off.
The injury was sustained in front of head coach Jones, who was feeding the forwards the ball as they ran towards the posts.
Charlie Ewels (Bath) has been called up as injury cover for Itoje while Ollie Thorley (Gloucester) is retained as injury cover for Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs).
Attack coach Scott Wisemantel said the injury was not significant and refused to rule the 24-year-old Saracens player out of Italy’s visit to Twickenham in the penultimate round of the championship.
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“Maro has had a minor tweak and the medical staff are taking a look at it. He’s being managed day by day anyway. I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Wisemantel said.
“We’ve just got to wait and see what the medics say. We’ll see how he pulls up tomorrow [Wednesday].”
Courtney Lawes was lost to a calf strain sustained against Wales and England were banking on Itoje being available for Italy, hence the inclusion of only three locks in their 31-man training squad.
Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri have lost their past 20 Six Nations matches in a dismal sequence dating back to 2015.
Wisemantel, whose appointment to Jones’s management team has coincided with England’s flourishing attacking game, views the fixture as the platform for minor experimentation.
“It’s an opportunity to change a few things, so we’ll look to mix it up a little bit,” the Australian said.
“But look at the teams who have played Italy – they haven’t changed a lot. Scotland, Wales and Ireland have stuck to their structures and we won’t go too far away from ours.
“It will be interesting to see what Italy bring, so we’ve prepared for all sorts of scenarios.”
Forwards: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Charlie Ewels (Bath), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Jamie George (Saracens), Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs), Brad Shields (Wasps), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons),
Backs: Joe Cokanasiga (Bath), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens) captain, George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Dan Robson (Wasps), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ollie Thorley (Gloucester), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)