Wednesday 22 November 2017

Farrell training injury leaves Jones on edge as England ring changes

England coach targets fast start against Scots after revamping backline

England's Owen Farrell. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
England's Owen Farrell. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Mick Cleary

Eddie Jones leads England into the Calcutta Cup tomorrow in spiky mood after concerns were raised over the fitness of Owen Farrell.

Farrell took a heavy knock during the final flat-out training session yesterday and Jones was evasive when asked about his chances of playing.

The head coach's prickly outlook is an antidote, if nothing else, to any complacency settling in his team, who have not lost at home to Scotland since 1983.

Farrell is expected to pass muster and England are in good fettle, being the only unbeaten side in the championship and on the brink of significant landmarks if they extend that lengthy run of success against Scotland.

If there were a need for England to show that they are approaching this fixture with due intent, then it was reflected in Jones' abrasive, challenging demeanour. If his team contest every aspect of the game with the same feistiness, then England will be well on their way to a world record-equalling mark of 18 consecutive victories.

Jones made several joking references to his playmaker and goal-kicker having fallen over the head coach's Papillon dog, Annie.

"He could be in doubt, mate," said Jones when asked to clarify the severity of the incident. "Could be in doubt. He has got a bad leg so he couldn't finish training. I think he ran into my dog. He'll be all right. Possibly."

Jones was able to recall Billy Vunipola into the squad after playing just 72 minutes last weekend following a four-month lay-off - testimony to the impact Jones has had on the Saracens No 8's self-belief.

The starting pack is the same as for the last match, against Italy, with the three changes all in the back line, Ben Youngs trading places with Danny Care at scrum-half, Jonathan Joseph returning at outside centre and Jack Nowell being preferred on the wing.

Bath's Anthony Watson is back in the fold after injury and gets the nod on the bench ahead of Jonny May.

There was a thought that Vunipola might slot straight back into the starting line-up but Jones has charged Nathan Hughes with giving England the sort of rattling start they crave and which they have failed to deliver. Jones is at a loss as to why.

"If I knew, then I would fix it, and I haven't been able to fix it, so I don't know," said Jones who did highlight the fact that whatever start-finish combo he went with at No 8, he was going to get "a fantastic 80 minutes from that position".

Any sense that England had struggled to cope initially with Italy's non-ruck tactics a fortnight ago was dismissed by Jones.

"There was someone confused in the first half and it wasn't our players," said Jones. "I thought we dealt with it fantastically well.

"Scotland are a well-coached side and they will participate in the spirit of the game."


Dylan Hartley has made no attempt to duck his responsibility as captain in not addressing the issue sooner, as well as better. But he also pointed out that the matter was quickly dealt with during their training camp in Oxford last week and that the focus had switched immediately to getting the finale of the championship right, starting tomorrow.

The whole squad will watch Wales-Ireland tonight from their hotel base, Hartley not professing a preference as to who wins, even though a Wales victory would hand England the title if they go on to win the Calcutta Cup.

"We asked the boys last week to make a choice, to kick on and get better in a week when we could have taken our foot off the gas, and they chose to work hard to get better," said Hartley, who will be a key figure in the scrum, where England are perceived to have an edge.

"We weren't 100pc against Italy so we have had a key work-on. We are primed. We have to focus on ourselves in everything. Scrum, defence attack, line-out, kick-chase - it is all on us."

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