All hail Paice! Hooker's joy at call-up but England injuries mount
22:10 GMT, 29 October 2012
Joe Marler became the latest player to join England’s swelling casualty as the Harlequins prop’s hamstring injury forced head coach Stuart Lancaster to send for Matt Mullan as yet another squad reinforcement.
The flow of late arrivals into the FA’s national football centre in Burton-on-Trent — London Irish hooker David Paice and Quins lock George Robson joined on Sunday — continued with the call-up of the Worcester loosehead for training ahead of the first QBE International against Fiji at Twickenham on November 10.
Marler appeared to come through Quins’ Aviva Premiership victory over Irish on Sunday unscathed, but after reporting for national duty he was diagnosed with a ‘tight’ hamstring.
Call up: David Paice has been drafted into the England squad
While the RFU insisted that summoning Mullan was just a precaution, Lancaster will, in theory, aim to finalise a matchday 23 for the Fiji game by Thursday, in order to release remaining squad players back to their clubs.
Therefore, Marler has another 48 hours to prove he is fit or his place is likely to be filled by the uncapped Saracen, Mako Vunipola.
This latest alarming development follows a flurry of setbacks over the weekend, with concerns largely focused on the state of two key Northampton forwards — Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes — who both suffered knee injuries on Saturday.
Amid suggestions that the damage sustained by Hartley is ‘significant’, the hooker and his fellow Saint were sent for scans on Monday evening. The RFU medical staff were also monitoring the state of centre Jonathan Joseph’s right ankle.
Hartley had been considered a contender for the captaincy, having led England to a draw in their last outing, against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in June, then following that up with a storming start to the new season. However, Chris Robshaw remained the clear favourite and is due to be confirmed on Tuesday in the role he filled with such distinction for the first seven games of this year.
Race against time: Joe Marler (left) is struggling with a hamstring injury
Mullan was the third forward called up as a late replacement, after Robson and Paice checked into St George’s at short notice on Sunday night.
Paice revealed that he had to check with Joseph, his club colleague, to find out which part of the country he should drive to after being told about his sudden call-up by Exiles director of rugby Brian Smith.
‘I’ve just asked JJ where we’re going,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t sure. I haven’t spoken to anyone from England — just Brian and the media. I don’t know if people are winding me up! I’ll have to get one of the guys at Sunbury (London Irish’s training ground) to open up the changing room to get more boots out, then plug in the sat nav to find my way!’
Paice had learned last week that he had been overlooked for a place in the senior squad yet again, with Tom Youngs of Leicester promoted from the Saxons ahead of him. Yet the sense of dejection didn’t last long.
‘They called me on Tuesday night and said that I wasn’t in,’ he said. ‘I was disappointed but I’m very excited now. Brian told me in the changing rooms just after the game, and it’s a great honour. This news is a great surprise for me. I got engaged on Wednesday night, so it is a great engagement present!’
Sitting it out: Courtney Lawes (centre) and Dylan Hartley (right)
The hooker, 28, born in Darwin, Australia, made two replacement Test appearances on the tour of New Zealand in 2008, but then fell off England’s radar. He has worked hard for another shot and his chance follows the retirement of first Steve Thompson, then Lee Mears, and the injuries which sidelined Rob Webber and Joe Gray.
‘I think I’ve been playing well for the last couple of seasons and if I get my shot, I will take it with both hands this time,’ said Paice. ‘My game has come along in leaps and bounds, and I know I’m a much better player than I was in 2008.
‘The biggest thing I had to work on was my set-pieces and I think it is a major strength in my game now. I got my opportunity in 2008 through injuries and I guess it has happened again, but this time I’m going to take the chance.’