June International Tours

The show must go on :Ashton

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England coach Brian Ashton, despite having only eight fit backs at his disposal – of which three are scrum-halves – said on Wednesday that he is not considering approaching the International Rugby Board (IRB) with a request to call off the second test against South Africa at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Despite the latest batch of injury and illness setbacks, Ashton remains adamant that England will field a full team at Loftus on Saturday.

On Wednesday four more players were ruled out of the tour. Mike Brown, James Simpson-Daniel and Andy Farrell have all succumbed to the dreaded stomach virus that has ravaged the tour party, whilst Andy Hazell has failed to recover from the knee injury.

Of further concern for England is that captain Jason Robinson, who has fluid in his knee, has been unable to train with his teammates. He has only done some light exercises in the gym and swimming pool.

Having arrived in South Africa minus 30-odd of their top players and having lost players like Iain Balshaw (shin) and David Strettle (stomach virus) before Wednesday’s setbacks, Ashton was forced to send an SOS to the uncapped, Johannesburg-born Nick Abendanon to join the touring party.

Despite admitting that on Wednesday he could not field a full backline, the England coach remained adamant about his team fulfilling their commitment.

Asked if he thought of contacting the IRB, to say England simply can’t honour this fixture as a result of the numerous setback, Ashton remained defiant.

“No, not at all, the players would have been horrified if had even mentioned anything like that,” he said about the question of calling off the test.

“I don’t think it has crossed anyone’s mind.”

Ashton was also adamant that the England captain will be fit to lead the team on Saturday.

“He came through what was required of him this morning at the gym and pool and should take his place in the team run on Friday,” Ashton told a media gathering on Wednesday.

If Robinson fails in his bid for fitness, England will be severely depleted in the back three, something Ashton is only too aware of.

“We have talked about all the possibilities as far as the back three goes but we will have to wait to see what happens over the next few days,” he said.

“Mathew Tait has played on the wing in a Test before but we really have to wait and see how the next two days shape up before we can make final decisions.

Such is the severity of the illness that has struck Simpson-Daniel and Farrell that they are not in a stable enough condition to fly home. Simpson-Daniel has failed to train all week, and was a doubt to even make the first Test but recovered enough to take his place on the bench.

With the fitness of the squad changing by the hour, Ashton was forced to delay the announcement of his side for Saturday until Friday afternoon, or possibly even the morning of the game.

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital

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