England: Kyle Sinckler in and Maro Itoje doubtful ahead of Six Nations clash with Ireland

It’s good news and bad news for England on Friday as Kyle Sinckler has been given the green light for their crucial Six Nations fixture against Ireland whilst the impactful lock Maro Itoje is doubtful to play due to illness.

Veteran Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels formed the second-row partnership in the final practice session before the all important game after Itoje became unwell during the night and had to miss out.

England are hopeful that the Saracens forward will be match fit for Saturday’s clash as they cannot afford to lose a word-class forward like Itoje if the Irish are to be dealt another loss this tournament.

Launchbury on standby to start

Forwards coach Matt Proudfoot has revealed that if the Saracens lock is unable to recover in time, then Launchbury will start alongside Ewels with Nick Isiekwe or Ollie Chessum stepping up to the bench.

Sinckler’s availability hinged on coming through a fitness check on Friday after being unable to train all week because of a back issue, but the tighthead prop has been cleared for the make-or-break title showdown.

Adding to the late disruption, Proudfoot’s fellow forward coach Richard Cockerill became the latest member of England’s camp to test positive for Covid and he will not be present at Twickenham for due to self-isolation.

“Kyle fully trained. He had a great training session and looked really good,” Proudfoot said.

“Maro was a little sick overnight so we’re just giving him an opportunity to recover, but we’re really optimistic he’ll be all right.”

Itoje sets the physical tone for England, particularly in defence where he is a master of disruption, and his loss would leave a hole at the heart of their pack, but Proudfoot insists Launchbury would be a capable deputy.

“Maro’s a world class player and his X-factor is the amount of pressure he can apply. But we have a guy who has got 69 caps in Joe Launchbury and his speciality is the physicality he brings,” he said.

The rivals clash for the 139th time knowing that the losing side will be removed from title contention, while the winner will go on to challenge favourites France on the final weekend.

Even with the match being staged at Twickenham, bookmakers are backing Ireland to win and Proudfoot is braced for England’s biggest test since South Africa were toppled in the autumn.

“For us it’s a great opportunity to go after them. The team has trained really, really well and every week it’s got more and more competitive,” he said.

“The preparation has been great and when they walked off the field today (Friday), you could see the confidence in the eyes of the players.

“We know we’ve got to go after them. Ireland have been together for a big part of the year because of their large Leinster contingent, so we know they have that as an advantage, but we’re eager for the opportunity.

“It tends to be the deeper you go into the Six Nations, it gets more and more intense. This is probably going to be the most intense game we’ve played since the Springboks.”

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