St Helens prop Alex Walmsley will make his England debut against Lebanon on Saturday, coach Wayne Bennett has confirmed.
The 27-year-old front row forward was a late withdrawal from the team to play Australia in Friday’s World Cup opening match in Melbourne after succumbing to a virus he thought he had overcome earlier in the week.
The team have now flown to Sydney to set up camp ahead of their second group A game and Walmsley took part in a full training session in sweltering heat – even at 9am – at South Sydney’s Redfern Oval.
“He’ll play, he’s good this morning,” said Bennett. “He’s doing it a bit tough over there in the physical department at the moment but he’ll be fine.
“Regardless of which other players I pick, he’ll definitely be in the team as he should have been there on Friday but he wasn’t up to it.”
Although Ryan Hall, John Bateman and Gareth Widdop all appeared to pick up slight knocks during the 90-minute training session, Bennett said he had no injury concerns other than one over Sam Burgess.
The former Bradford forward, who suffered knee medial ligament damage during Friday’s 18-4 defeat by the Kangaroos, arrived at training with his knee heavily bandaged but had the strapping removed before going through some light exercises under the personal supervision of physio Dave O’Sullivan well away from the rest of the 24-man squad.
Burgess will sit out both remaining group games, against Lebanon and France, but Bennett expects his star man to be back for a potential semi-final against New Zealand in Auckland on November 25 and has not yet ruled him out of the quarter-finals.
“That’s what we’re aiming for,” Bennett said. “He’s not too bad, it’s not as serious as it could have been. We’re looking to have him back for the quarters at best, if not the next game after that.”
Walmsley will take the place of Burgess but Bennett is likely to keep any further changes to a minimum after being encouraged by Friday’s performance.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “I’ll tell the team. They’ll know in the 24 hours what I’m doing, so we might see a few minor changes.”
Bennett left out three players for the mid-season Test against Samoa in Sydney, after they had made the 12,000-mile journey from England, but hopes to give everybody a run-out before the knock-out stages.
“That’s my intention but they know where they stand,” he said. “I can’t promise them that, but that’s what I want to do. It would be nice for them but our job is to get results.”
England are facing a potential banana skin against a Robbie Farah-captained Lebanon, who triumphed 29-18 against France in their opening game in Canberra on Sunday, a game Bennett has yet to catch up on.
Asked what he thought of the Cedars’ victory, Bennett said: “I’ve no idea mate, I haven’t seen the game. Of course Robbie Farah is a good player but I haven’t seen him with Lebanon as my priority right now is getting these boys right.”