Six Nations: Stuart Lancaster backs Ben Morgan to fill Billy Vunipola void

Last Updated: 26/02/14 4:10pm

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Stuart Lancaster: Confident in the ability of Ben Morgan

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England head coach Stuart Lancaster insists Ben Morgan is a "like-for-like" replacement for the injured Billy Vunipola.

Vunipola has been ruled out of the remaining two Six Nations matches against Wales and Italy after damaging ankle ligaments in Saturday's 13-10 victory over Ireland at Twickenham.

The Saracens No 8, who does not require surgery and should return in mid-April, will be replaced by Morgan in the starting XV for the visit of the defending champions on March 9.

Morgan has already made a significant impact from the bench in this Six Nations campaign and Lancaster believes he offers the same firepower as the rampaging Vunipola.

"It's a dead set like-for-like replacement," Lancaster said. "This is a great opportunity for Ben.

"Billy has shown during the Six Nations that he has fantastic potential. It's a big loss because he gave us a lot of go forward.

"But we've seen from Ben's appearances off the bench that he also has the ability to do that."

The prominent rise of Vunipola in the England back row has left Morgan benched in recent times but Lancaster expects the Gloucester forward to seize his opportunity.

Itching

"I know he's been itching for an opportunity and sometimes they happen for you," he added. "It's been created for him and I'm sure he'll ready against Wales.

"Ben went back to Gloucester to improve on his performances after the autumn. He was frustrated with himself.

"Our depth is being tested at the moment but it's a good thing for us in the long run that we get this chance to develop experience in the group."
Stuart Lancaster

"But he's worked hard off the field in the gym and is in good shape.

"His appearances off the bench off the back of that have been strong and helped him with his confidence. He's playing with confidence now."

Morgan admits it is disappointing to see Vunipola sustain the injury and empathises with his teammate, but claims he is ready to stake his claim for the No 8 berth.

Frustrating

"It's never nice to see anyone get injured, I had exactly the same thing the previous year in the Scotland game," the 12-cap England international told Sky Sports News.

"But it's an opportunity and it's up to me really to grasp that.

"Obviously, it's been a little bit frustrating from my point of view, the amount of game time I've had but it's about making the most of the opportunities you've been given."

The loss of Vunipola is a second major blow for England after prop Dan Cole was diagnosed with a season-ending neck injury ahead of the Ireland clash.

However, with the Rugby World Cup on home soil in 2015, Lancaster views the present setbacks as a chance to develop squad depth.

"That's a challenge but also as we've seen that presents great opportunities," Lancaster added.

"To win a World Cup you need a 30-man squad with strength in depth across the board. You want two in every position, if not more.

"Our depth is being tested at the moment but it's a good thing for us in the long run that we get this chance to develop experience in the group."

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