England vs Fiji: Steve Borthwick praying final World Cup test does not add to his horror-story week

England vs Fiji: Steve Borthwick praying final World Cup test does not add to his horror-story week

Steve Borthwick keeps a meticulous journal for each Rugby World Cup he attends, as either player or coach. His diary for 2023 most likely already reads like a Stephen King novel.

Horror master King's famed fright fest ‘It’ revolves around a ghoul that takes the form of its target's worst fears. Pennywise the Clown terrorised the dreams of a generation of readers in the most common iteration of that evil spirit.

For Borthwick, the incarnation of total dread will surely manifest itself as any more injuries or suspensions.

England's head coach is not a superstitious man, but even the ultimate pragmatist would have to look on the Red Rose squad's injury profile and despair. Anyone would think Borthwick had spent an afternoon smashing up a room full of mirrors.

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

How else to account for a quarter of England's original 33-man Rugby World Cup squad being unavailable for tomorrow's final warm-up Test.

Two of those eight are out of the World Cup entirely, a third is not out of the injury woods yet, two are suspended and three more are still on the comeback trail.

Anthony Watson was ruled out of the World Cup yesterday with a calf injury, while Elliot Daly has picked up a knee problem. England are optimistic Daly will be fit in time for the World Cup, but there are still worries around him.

Tom Curry will not feature at all in the four warm-up matches, due to an ankle injury; George Martin has a knee concern; while Henry Arundell has developed a "freak" back spasm.

Squad captain Owen Farrell is suspended and will miss both the World Cup opener against Argentina and the second pool-stage clash with Japan. Billy Vunipola will be forced to sit out the Pumas clash through suspension, too.

What a catalogue of chills. Borthwick would be forgiven for watching tomorrow's final warm-up clash with Fiji from behind the sofa, or even under the duvet. He will surely just be desperate to make it to France without any more bad news.

England will set up their World Cup camp in the plush coastal surroundings of Le Touquet. That northern coastal town could quickly resemble The Shining on Sea if England's absentee list swells to the point of inducing mania.

If you find Borthwick repeatedly bashing out All Kicks and No Tries Makes Steve a Dull Boy at an antique typewriter at England's team hotel in France, the campaign truly will have hit the skids.

England desperately need a “Here's Johnny!” moment this weekend against Fiji in any case.

Jack Nicholson improvised the famous line from Stanley Kubrick's film classic adaptation of King's The Shining.

How England would love to be at the point of being able to dispense with the script. The gameplan itself has yet to spark into attacking life, so none of Borthwick's charges are about to start straying off-piste.

Borthwick and his coaches have a litany of contingency plans and have already had to delve deep into that stack.

Gloucester stalwart Jonny May missed out on the original 33-man World Cup squad selection, but now the 33-year-old is in the box seat to replace the luckless Watson in France.

Experienced: Jonny May is back in the England fold after Anthony Watson’s injury (PA)
Experienced: Jonny May is back in the England fold after Anthony Watson’s injury (PA)

Clubless Watson will have everything crossed his calf problem does not end up long-term, too, because the 29-year-old was only granted a short-term RFU deal to cover the World Cup.

That will stay in place despite his absence in France, but come November the former Bath and Leicester star will need a new home.

That could very well prove a return to Leicester for the second half of the Premiership campaign, but a significant absence could scupper that option. A move abroad is always open, but Watson wants to stay on home soil for both his family and his England ambitions.

Speed-king May remains one of England's most diligent trainers and meticulous preparers.

The 72-cap flier knows exactly how to finish and will be desperate to convert some chances tomorrow.

May will hope that England's latest brand-new centre pairing of Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence lives up to its blockbuster billing.

Tuilagi and Lawrence might just be the twin wrecking balls to blast England's attacking game wide open.

The two powerhouses must work out how to act as foil as well as bludgeon, though, to thrive as a genuine pairing. If they can dovetail in style, there is every chance of them linking up from the off against the Pumas in Marseille on September 9.