England have encountered their first injury setback since arriving in France for the World Cup after Jack Willis was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.
Willis suffered a neck problem in the 71-0 victory over Chile on September 23 – his only appearance of the group phase – and on Wednesday night England learned he would be ruled out for several more weeks.
Head coach Steve Borthwick will call up a replacement for the Toulouse back row, to be named in due course, who is likely to join up with the squad in Marseille for quarter-final week.
“We’re really disappointed for Jack because he’s been an important member of this team,” Borthwick said.
“He’s done really well, played an important role in the Chile game and is an important member of this squad over the last period of time.
“We anticipate the injury will be just a few weeks but given the timescales we’re operating to it means he will be replaced in the 33.”
England lost scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet and wing Anthony Watson to tournament-ending injuries in August but their squad has otherwise been unhampered by fitness issues.
Tom Willis – brother of Jack – and Tom Pearson were in Borthwick’s training squad before it was reduced to 33 and the replacement is likely to be supplied by one of them.
Remarkably, Willis finished the 11-try victory over Chile in England’s most recent World Cup outing but the 26-year-old breakdown specialist is now coming to terms with the latest twist to his roller coaster year.
“We’re absolutely gutted for Jack,” said Willis’ England team-mate Maro Itoje.
“Jack has been here since Toulouse won the Top 14. He’s put in a lot of energy and effort and has mucked in with all the boys.
“To get to this stage and be forced out by injury is very sad. We’re all gutted for him and will miss him. He’s already told us that he’ll be wishing us the very best.
“We know the type of player and person he is, so it won’t be too long until he’s back in this environment.”