The England flanker Jack Willis is set for another long-term lay-off after sustaining a sickening knee injury against Italy, prompting calls for a crackdown on the kind of “crocodile roll” clearout to which he fell victim.
Willis underwent a scan on Sunday and while the initial results suggested he had not sustained ACL damage his Wasps director of rugby, Lee Blackett, said the injury was “pretty serious” and he faces “a long time out”.
Eddie Jones said England would review the incident before deciding whether to make any representations to the authorities. “If we think something is untoward we’d bring it to [World Rugby’s] attention,” said Jones. “So we’ll go through it and have a look at it but we’ll go through the appropriate channels to do that.”
Willis was rolled away from the ruck by Italy’s Sebastian Negri, who apologised on social media on Sunday, and the 24-year-old could be heard screaming in pain as his left knee buckled. Such was the seriousness, the broadcaster ITV chose not to show replays of the incident during England’s 41-18 victory.
The referee Mike Adamson took no action at the time and, provided no contact is made with the neck, crocodile rolls are tolerated. Critics say they would be illegal if the laws of the game were properly enforced, however.
The former England sevens coach Ben Ryan, who guided Fiji to Olympic gold in 2016, has long since been campaigning for World Rugby to ban crocodile rolls and was among those calling for the governing body to act over the weekend, writing on social media: “Another croc roll that injures and damages. What does it take to get them banned????”.
The Guardian columnist and pundit Ugo Monye described the incident as an “an injury that didn’t need to happen” and a potential “line in the sand” moment.
For Willis it is a desperate blow, having also sustained a dreadful knee injury in May 2018. On that occasion it was his right knee and Willis not only missed the subsequent England tour of South Africa – having just received his first call-up – but most of the subsequent season. He then battled back and starred in Wasps’ run to last season’s Premiership final, winning his first cap in the autumn. He had been on the field for only six minutes before injury struck but in that time he had managed to score his second England try.
“Injuries are always not a nice part of rugby but we all understand there is a chance that you can get injured,” Jones said. “He’s a good young lad and he’s going to be a good player, and this is an unfortunate setback for him.”
Speaking after Wasps’ Premiership win against Worcester on Sunday, Blackett confirmed that while the prognosis could be worse, Willis will not be back playing any time soon. “It’s really early and I don’t want to go concrete with this but it sounds like he has done quite a few things with his knee,” he told Coventry Live. “It’s pretty serious. But at this moment in time it looks like he has not done his ACL. He will spend a long time out, I should imagine.”