England will begin the build-up to their final match of the World Cup against Uruguay on Saturday amid revelations of squad disharmony.
It is understood the hosts’ campaign has unfolded against a backdrop of disquiet over the influence of backs coach Andy Farrell on selection and tactics, and opposition to the management’s determination to pick Sam Burgess.
Number eight Billy Vunipola, who was ruled out of the tournament last week by a knee injury, is reported to have spoken at a Q&A on Thursday night in which he made similar claims when interviewed –although he has since refuted that on Twitter.
Reacting to the 33-13 defeat by Australia that dumped England out of their own World Cup, head coach Stuart Lancaster declared there is “no division in the coaching team”.
And he insisted the final decision in picking the side was his alone.
However, it has been reported that some players felt that Farrell and not Lancaster is effectively running England with the desire to use Burgess proving divisive because of his lack of union experience.
The management repeatedly pointed to Burgess’ performance during the gruelling 10-week summer training camp to justify his participation, but their faith was apparently not shared throughout the squad.
Vunipola denied reports on Sunday night that he had expressed views against the England management, tweeting: “Hearing some rumours that I’ve been saying negative stuff about England. Laughable!
“I would never say anything negative about the boys or staff. We gave everything we had, just wasn’t enough and we all take responsibility.”
Lancaster fears he will forever bear the scars of having presided over England’s worst World Cup performance.
It has taken only 16 days for a tournament launched amid high expectation to be reduced to rubble by successive defeats by Wales and Australia, who between them amassed 61 points at Twickenham.
The Rugby Football Union will launch an inquest once the World Cup is over, mindful that the review should not divert attention away from an event that has otherwise been very well received.
“I’m the head coach and we didn’t get out of the pool. This is going to sit with us all forever – players, coaches, management,” Lancaster said.
“I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with it personally – it was such a big thing.”