Suspended England hooker Dylan Hartley could return to the squad during the World Cup, says forwards coach Graham Rowntree.
Hartley, 29, was removed from the squad after a four-week ban for a head-butt, ruling him out of England’s three warm-up matches and the tournament opener against Fiji on 18 September.
But Rowntree has not ruled out a recall once he has served his suspension.
“How can I see what is going to happen in the future?” Rowntree told the BBC.
“I have spoken to him and kept in contact with him. So I know he’s fit and available if we needed to do that.
“I’ve worked with him for a long time, and I have a good relationship with him. [The conversation] was just to see how he is getting on pre-season. No more reason than that really, I keep in touch with all the players.”
Despite Hartley missing 54 weeks of his career through suspensions, England’s travails at the set-piece in the two friendly matches against France have shone a spotlight on the hooker position.
Tom Youngs, Rob Webber, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George are vying for three places in the final 31-man squad and Hartley would only be available to join up with the squad during the World Cup in the event of an injury.
“The situation is what it is,” Rowntree added. “Hartley is not available so I have to concentrate my resources on the guys that are here, so that’s what I am doing.”
And although admitting the set-piece was “concerning”, Rowntree says he is not panicking, despite the way the forwards were dominated in the 25-20 defeat in Paris last weekend.
“We didn’t perform. We had a big team review, and the biggest thing was we just didn’t help ourselves,” he added.
“I’m not going to sit here and start panicking. We just have to address all those little functions that weren’t going well. We’ve seen what they are, now it’s time for us to do it, as we have done before.”
Rowntree also says Nick Easter’s performance off the bench has put him in contention for a place in the final party, with the Harlequins forward being considered as both a lock and a number eight.
“I thought he had a forceful impact off the bench on Saturday night. It makes competition even fiercer than it is.”