England call up Jack Willis replacement for Rugby World Cup knockouts

Jack Willis was ruled out of the rest of the tournament

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England have called up a replacement for Jack Willis after the flanker was ruled out of the remainder of the Rugby World Cup through injury.

Willis suffered a neck injury in the comprehensive 71-0 win over Chile last week, with the fact that he would be heading home from France being confirmed ahead of the weekend.

However, England waited until after their final pool game – a scrappy, come-from-behind 18-17 win over Samoa in Lille on Saturday evening – to announce a replacement.

It has now been revealed that head coach Steve Borthwick has called up Sam Underhill to bolster his back-row options, with the move confirmed in a short statement.

“Sam Underhill has been added to England’s Rugby World Cup squad in France,” read the statement. “The Bath Rugby back-row forward replaces Jack Willis and will join up with the squad in Lille today ahead of England’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Sunday 15 October in Marseille.”


England look likely to play Fiji in that Marseille quarter-final next Sunday, providing the Pacific Islanders get at least one match point from their clash with bottom-of-the-pool Portugal.

Underhill was a key cog in England’s 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign, and even started in the final against South Africa, but has been in and out of the team during this World Cup cycle, partly due to a series of injuries.

Sam Underhill has replaced Jack Willis

The 27-year-old was in Borthwick’s first World Cup training squad but was a surprise cut back in July and headed back to his club side Bath to prepare for the new season. Instead, he will now have a chance to contribute in the knockout stages of the tournament in France.

Willis’s neck issue continued his run of bad luck with injuries. In February 2021, having recently made his England debut, Willis came off the bench during a Six Nations match against Italy at Twickenham and suffered a catastrophic knee injury that ultimately ruled him out for more than a year.

That was his second serious knee injury after tearing an ACL playing for Wasps in the 2018 Premiership semi-final but the back-rower battled his way back from both, only to see his World Cup dreams dashed by a neck issue.

It likely means the end of the 26-year-old’s England career for the time being as he had special dispensation to play for his country after joining Toulouse following Wasps going into administration last season. However, by signing a new contract with the French club, he has rendered himself ineligible for selection due to RFU rules about players playing outside of England.

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