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Rugby: Lack of scrum-half cover could haunt England at World Cup - Woodward

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(Reuters) – The decision to take only two specialist scrum-halves to the Rugby World Cup in Japan could come back to haunt England, former coach Clive Woodward has said.

Coach Eddie Jones announced his 31-man squad for the tournament on Monday and included the experienced Ben Youngs and New Zealand-born test rookie Willi Heinz as his two options for the number nine jersey.

“This is a full metal jacket squad,” Woodward, who led England to World Cup glory in 2003, wrote in a column for the Daily Mail.

“Overall it looks a great squad but I have one major issue – the fact that England are only taking two scrum-halves.

“If either Ben Youngs or Willi Heinz – or both – pulls up on the Friday before a Saturday match, you do not have the time to fly someone out to Japan and replace them.

“At the World Cup, if a player is injured and replaced they cannot come back into the squad, so if someone picks up a slight hamstring pull they could be out for the tournament.

“You would then go into a big game without your specialist number nine on the field and with no proper back-up on the bench.”

Woodward suspected that flyhalf George Ford would be asked to fill in at scrum-half in the event of an injury to Youngs or Heinz.

“Eddie will have to get away with it and be lucky. I hope he is,” he added.

“It could be something that is never mentioned again but if there are injuries, England could be in real trouble.

“No doubt Eddie sees George Ford as his back-up scrum-half, but it’s a tough call for Ford to play 80 minutes at number nine against a heavyweight of world rugby.”

The World Cup begins on Sept. 20 and England start their Pool C campaign against Tonga in Sapporo two days later.

(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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