England’s Vunipola to miss World Cup opener against Argentina

England number eight Billy Vunipola will miss the opening game of the Rugby World Cup against Argentina after he was handed a three-match suspension on Wednesday following a red card against Ireland at the weekend.

Vunipola’s ban will be reduced to two games if he undertakes a coaching intervention programme, which he is almost certain to do, freeing him up for England’s second World Cup Pool D clash against Japan.

England have already lost captain Owen Farrell for the first two games of the global showpiece in France. The flyhalf was hit with a four-game suspension on Tuesday after he received a red card against Wales earlier this month.

Vunipola is the only specialist number eight selected in England’s 33-player World Cup squad and coach Steve Borthwick will have to find an alternative for the weekend’s warm-up game against Fiji.

Borthwick is likely to choose between Ben Earl or Tom Curry, who has had recent injury concerns, to wear the number eight jersey in Vunipola’s absence.

Vunipola, 30, was sent off during Saturday’s 29-10 defeat in Dublin for a no-arms tackle that resulted in his shoulder contacting the head of prop Andrew Porter.

Like Farrell, he was initially shown a yellow card that was later upgraded to a red by the recently introduced bunker review system.

But unlike Farrell, Vunipola admitted he had committed an act of foul play worthy of a red card, which has a suspension entry point of six weeks according to World Rugby regulations.

A statement from Six Nations Rugby said the independent judicial committee reduced Vunipola’s ban to three weeks due to mitigating factors including his exemplary record, immediate apology and remorse.

The Rugby World Cup runs from Sept. 8 to Oct. 28

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