England endured a morning of contrasting emotions as they began the countdown to a seismic World Cup showdown with Australia.
Tom Wood being cleared to face the Wallabies after striking Wales full-back Liam Williams was welcome news – but a report suggesting they might have spied on Saturday’s opponents in training was rejected as “categorically untrue”.
Stuart Lancaster watched his team fall to a late Wales resurgence on Saturday.
Completing an eventful few hours was an accusation by former captain Will Carling that Stuart Lancaster had created a “classroom orientated environment” and that the players are treated as “schoolboys”.
England are battling an injury crisis after Ben Morgan, Billy Vunipola, Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs and Jonathan Joseph became doubts to face Australia at Twickenham, so Wood’s availability has delivered a timely shot in the arm.
Williams was concussed in the 28-25 loss to Wales when he was struck on the head by Wood’s shin as the Northampton forward attempted to kick a loose ball, but the citing officer viewed the offence as worthy of a warning and not a citing.
The judgement enables Wood, who apologised to Williams and insisted the act was accidental, to play in the defining match of Lancaster’s reign to date. Considering the back row injury concerns over Vunipola and Morgan, his availability is vital.
News of the citing officer’s decision came after England had awoken to a newspaper report that they were involved in a spying row in which a man is said to have run away from Australia’s training ground after being spotted with a camera.
The story was given short shrift by a Rugby Football Union spokesman, with World Rugby also diffusing the situation by stating no complaint had been made.
On a day that witnessed strong criticism of the manner of Saturday’s defeat by underdogs Wales, England were savaged by Carling, who led the team 59 times in 73 international appearances.
Captain Chris Robshaw has been condemned for opting for an attacking line-out in the closing moments when awarded a penalty instead of giving Owen Farrell the chance to kick for goal – albeit from a difficult position near the touchline - which would have secured a draw.
Carling was scathing of Robshaw’s “unbelievable” decision and of the selection against Wales, but saved his strongest words for the failure by Lancaster – a former schoolteacher – to empower his leaders.
“I got the sense that England were panicking. I don’t blame Chris as much as I blame others. I blame the environment,” Carling told Radio Five Live.
“We have a very prescriptive environment in the England team. I’ve listened to Stuart Lancaster say for years that ’I don’t have the leaders and therefore we’re having to make all the decisions as coaches’. It’s a very classroom orientated environment.
“My view is that he has had leaders and that he needed to have trusted them and develop them.
“What we watched in the last 10 minutes was a confused debate between people who have never been given responsibility to lead and drive the team. Instead, we’ve treated them as schoolboys.”
England face Australia knowing defeat would mean they are highly likely to become the first single host nation to exit the tournament at the group stage.