League: Pritchard in doubt for World Cup semi

By Michael Brown of APNZ in London

Frank Pritchard has thrown a scare into the Kiwis camp, hobbling off from training overnight (NZT) with a hamstring strain. Photo / Getty Images.
Frank Pritchard has thrown a scare into the Kiwis camp, hobbling off from training overnight (NZT) with a hamstring strain. Photo / Getty Images.

Frank Pritchard has thrown a scare into the Kiwis camp, hobbling off from training overnight (NZT) with a hamstring strain that puts him in doubt for Sunday morning's World Cup semifinal with England.

It comes on top of increasing doubt around winger Manu Vatuvei's involvement in the high-stakes game, with the winger still struggling with the groin strain he picked up late in the 40-4 win over Scotland last weekend.

Pritchard felt tightness in his hamstring during training on a bitterly cold London day that featured heavy rain and even hail. It wasn't known how serious the injury was, partly because he's never had a hamstring injury before, but the 30-year-old was due to go for scans later in the day.

There will be some relief in the Kiwis camp that it's not an injury to one of their halves Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran or hooker Issac Luke and New Zealand have good depth in the second-row.

Alex Glenn looms as the most likely replacement, especially as he's a player capable of playing 80 minutes which Pritchard did against Scotland last weekend.

Captain Simon Mannering could also slot easily into the second-row, where he plays for the Warriors, with Elijah Taylor starting on the back row but Taylor also provides backup to Issac Luke. Frank-Paul Nu'uausala could also be handed a start and Greg Eastwood is another who could come into contention if Pritchard is ruled out.

It looks increasingly unlikely Vatuvei will play. He went for a light jog today but still seems some way short of being fit enough to take on England.

Kiwis assistant Ivan Cleary confirmed Jason Nightingale would come into the side if Vatuvei didn't recover in time.

The Kiwis had escaped relatively unscathed on the injury front until this week, with Thomas Leuluai (groin) the main casualty. Vatuvei had also been hampered by knee troubles and Josh Hoffman had strained his shoulder earlier in the tournament but both could have played if needed.

The Kiwis have been building nicely throughout the the World Cup but know it goes to a different level on Sunday morning against an opposition who will test them, even though they were less convincing than their 34-6 quarter-final win over France suggests.

England coach Steve McNamara knows his side will need to improve significantly if they are to topple the Kiwis and play in their first World Cup final since 1995.

"I think we play a whole lot better when there is an element of fear in the back of our minds," he told reporters. "Playing a really good opposition brings the best out in you, rather than the opposite way around."

McNamara has the luxury of a fully fit squad to choose from, apart from utility Zak Hardaker who withdrew from the camp for disciplinary reasons.

More than 63,000 tickets have already been sold for the double header at Wembley, which will also feature Australia taking on Fiji in their semifinal immediately after New Zealand's match.

The Kiwis have been installed as favourites by Australian and UK bookmakers but New Zealand haven't beaten England in the UK since 2005.

"The last two times we have been over here we have been beaten by England in a semifinal but we believe we have the side and are playing the sort of footy that can get us up for this one," Foran said.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 01 Aug 2014 08:38:29 Processing Time: 682ms