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Morgan missing from big decider
10:16am Tuesday 12th March 2013 in Sport
ENGLAND will travel to Cardiff for the final assignment of their Grand Slam quest without Ben Morgan after the Gloucester number eight succumbed once again to his ankle injury.
Morgan has been absent since the opening match of the RBS 6 Nations against Scotland after his expected return in Sunday’s below-par victory over Italy was postponed.
England have missed the 24- year-old’s ball carrying and hoped to use him at the Millennium Stadium, but head coach Stuart Lancaster has been forced to concede defeat on his selection.
‘‘Ben Morgan won’t be fit.
He’ll stay at Gloucester this week. His ankle recovery was always six to eight weeks and he won’t make it in time, which is a shame,’’ he said, A troubling run of injuries in the second row has failed to cause alarm with Lancaster ‘‘optimistic’’ that Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling and Courtney Lawes will be fit.
Launchbury will miss training today with a hyper-extended elbow, Lawes is likely to be involved despite his dead arm and Parling will sit out the session due to his shoulder problem.
More definitive was the news on Owen Farrell, who is fit to train fully after overcoming his quad strain and is expected to be restored at flyhalf in place of Toby Flood.
England were given an almighty scare by Italy but managed to cling on to an 18- 11 victory in what was comfortably their worst performance of the championship.
Sir Clive Woodward described the match as a ‘‘blessing in disguise’’, given that it will sharpen the players’ minds ahead of the seismic collision expected in the Welsh capital – a sentiment echoed by Will Carling, who felt the reality check was welltimed.
Lancaster accepts that England’s Grand Slam bid will crash at the final hurdle, mirroring their fate under Martin Johnson in Dublin two years ago, unless they produce a significant improvement.
‘‘We have had a chance to review the game and there were lots of areas we were pleased with, but I wouldn’t call it a blessing in disguise,’’ Lancaster said.
‘‘I’m not of the mindset as a coach that I’d want to not get areas right in order to get ourselves in the right frame of mind to play a game. We’ve definitely got plenty to work on.
‘‘I’ve never had an easy game against Italy personally and that proved to be the case again.
‘‘We were pleased and relieved to get the win and know we’ll have to play better against Wales.’’ Lancaster believes the pressure- cooker environment of the Millennium Stadium, with England playing for the Grand Slam and Wales the title, will serve as ideal preparation for the rivals’ group meeting at the 2015 World Cup.
The Welsh must win this one by seven points to guarantee a successful defence of their title.
‘‘It’s a massive game because of the context of the result, which is huge for both teams,’’ Lancaster said.
‘‘We’re a young team and a lot of our players haven’t played there before, so going to that type of environment is exactly the test we want.
‘‘It’s a couple of years until 2015 and we know that we’ve got Wales in what will be a big high-pressure game.
‘‘For a team to get that type of experience now and go up there and try to win a Grand Slam will be a special occasion.’’