Billy Vunipola out for England's Rugby World Cup opener with three-game ban

England's Billy Vunipola had a yellow card upgraded to red for this tackle on Andrew Porter of Ireland. Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

England coach Steve Borthwick will be without number eight Billy Vunipola for the opening game of the Rugby World Cup against Argentina after he was handed a three-match suspension on Wednesday following a red card in the weekend loss to Ireland.

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.

He will sit out England's final warm-up game on Saturday against Fiji, and despite Borthwick looking for alternatives, Vunipola is the only specialist number eight selected in his 33-player World Cup squad.

England also lost captain and flyhalf Owen Farrell to a four-game suspension on Tuesday, ruling him out of both the Argentina and Japan games, after he received a red card against Wales earlier this month.

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 World Cup starts on Sept. 8 in France, and England meet Argentina the following day.