The loss of “Ted” really shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have monitored the Sale and England prop’s fitness over recent years. Another injury to his left shoulder comes after two previous operations on that area in the past, whilst Sheridan has only just returned from a lengthy injury layoff after surgery on his right shoulder. This latest setback at the age of 31 brings into harsh light the reality of whether he can continue to play rugby not just at Test level with this injury, but at any level at all consistently in the future.
Regardless, England have lost their best scrummager from the tournament, leaving Matt Stevens and Alex Corbisiero to battle it out for the loosehead prop jersey. Stevens holds the greatest experience even with his recent two year drugs ban, whilst Corbisiero showed great promise against Martin Castrogiovanni and Nicolas Mas during the Six Nations, two of the best in the business. The gut reaction is to pick Stevens for his experience, particularly given the ferocious nature of the Georgian and Romanian front rows. That being said, both players flexibility on either side of the scrum means they may be called into action on the tighthead side as well as the loose.
With Sheridan departing and not returning, England are able to call out a replacement player for the squad. Taking 5 props originally has proven to be a smart move by Johnson, though it seems highly credible that an extra prop was taken in the first place on the basis of Sheridan’s lack of match fitness and recent return from the sick bay. Whether England now need more than four props is up for debate, with Paul Doran-Jones or Tim Payne likely to have been waiting by the phone over the last 24 hours as the immediate replacements in that position.
Other options though lie away from the front row. With captain Lewis Moody’s fitness still in doubt, calling up Hendre Fourie would save time and help correct an area where England struggled against Argentina, the breakdown. Bringing in an out-and-out 7 such as Fourie might help England compete better on the floor in defence, and if the seemingly inevitable does come to pass and Moody is ruled out, then the sooner Fourie is in New Zealand and in training the better.
Further afield, England remain short of ideas and options in the backs, meaning that Riki Flutey or Charlie Sharples could be called out to add competition to the centre and wing positions. Flutey’s midfield creativity still feels like a key ingredient that England forgot to add to the pan, whilst Sharples has started the season well for Gloucester and should be waiting to replace Cueto, rather than Armitage playing out of position. All in all, Sheridan’s loss should be seen by the England management more as an opportunity to correct the imbalance of the squad, rather than a time to lament.