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England lock Launchbury doubtful for must-win Test

England's Joe Launchbury during the Six Nations in London in March 2018
AFP

Durban (South Africa) (AFP) – England lock Joe Launchbury remains doubtful for a must-win second Test against South Africa this weekend, scrum coach Neal Hatley admitted Tuesday.

But hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie has been cleared to play in Bloemfontein this Saturday after recovering from hamstring tightness.

England lost a first Test thriller 42-39 in Johannesburg last Saturday and a second loss would cost them the series with only one match left, in Cape Town on June 23.

Launchbury has been unable to practice with the Red Rose squad since sustaining a calf injury 11 days ago and was replaced by Nick Isiekwe last weekend.

But Isiekwe was hauled off during the first half — an unusual move in a Test where substitutions are usually reserved for the second half unless a player is injured. 

Maro Itoje and Jonny Hill are the only other recognised locks in the squad although New Zealand-born flanker Brad Shields, who came on for Isiekwe to win his first cap, can play there.

“Joe was at training this morning, but worked out on his own,” said Hatley in Indian Ocean port city Durban, where England are based between Tests.

“He was moving reasonably well so we will see where he is later in the week. We need to see how he feels after seeing the physios.”

Concerns about Cowan-Dickie led England coach Eddie Jones to call up Jack Singleton from Worcester Warriors.

But Hatley said Cowan-Dickie, who came off the bench in Johannesburg to replace Jamie George, is available for selection.

“Luke was able to train today. We did some live scrums and he took part in those. He is good to go,” assured the assistant coach.

Looking ahead to Bloemfontein, where England were thrashed 58-10 on their last visit 11 years ago, Hatley said “first and foremost we want to win.

“We have had a good look at the first Test and identified the areas that we need to address and the areas which we thought we did well in.

“We scored close to 40 points at Ellis Park so we are pleased with a lot of the things we did in attack, including scoring five tries. It is just other areas that we need to tighten up.”

England have suffered a dramatic change of fortunes under Australia-born Jones, who won 24 of his first 25 Tests since succeeding Stuart Lancaster after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

But a Six Nations loss to Scotland in Edinburgh last February triggered a losing streak that stretched to four Tests with the defeat by South Africa. England also fell to the Barbarians.

The Springboks have won three and drawn two of five past Test series against the Red Rose in the republic.

Coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jones will reveal their second Test line-ups Thursday.

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