By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO (Reuters) – Saracens scrumhalf Ben Spencer, who has 20 minutes of test rugby to his name, is set for a shock place on England’s bench for the World Cup final after Willi Heinz was ruled out after damaging a hamstring in Saturday’s semi-final victory over New Zealand.
Heinz, himself a surprise selection in the World Cup squad and who made his debut in August, replaced Ben Youngs just after an hour and was visibly hobbling by the end.
England, who brought only two number nines to the tournament, announced on Sunday that Spencer would join the squad in Japan on Monday as an official injury replacement. No details were given on the extent of Heinz’s injury, but he will stay with the squad for the rest of the week.
The situation has echoes of New Zealand in the 2011 tournament when fourth-choice flyhalf Stephen Donald was summoned from holiday after an injury crisis – and ended up kicking the winning penalty in the final victory over France.
Spencer has come off the bench as a late replacement three times for England, twice on last year’s tour of South Africa and also against Scotland in the Six Nations in March, playing five, eight and seven minute cameos.
The 27-year-old was part of England’s pre-World Cup training camp in Treviso, Italy but was then cut from the squad.
Spencer’s call-up will be hard to take for Dan Robson, who has spent much of the last two years in and out of England squads and for a long time seemingly next in line, only to be discarded by Jones in the summer.
(Editing by Lincoln Feast/Amlan Chakraborty)