England’s Six Nations build-up was in turmoil on Wednesday night as captain Owen Farrell was ruled out of the tournament, with several other leading players doubtful for their opening game in Scotland.
Head coach Eddie Jones confirmed Farrell was having surgery on the ankle he damaged in a freak training accident at Saracens — and the 30-year-old will not recover in time to take any part in the Six Nations.
England have to identify a replacement captain and a new-look midfield, with up to a third of their first-choice team in danger of missing the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield a week on Saturday.
England captain Owen Farrell was ruled out of the Six Nations due to an ankle injury
Experienced Gloucester wing Jonny May is set for a knee operation which will see him join Farrell on the sidelines throughout the Six Nations. Courtney Lawes is in a race to recover from concussion, Joe Marler is isolating with Covid and Exeter lock Jonny Hill is battling a foot injury. Henry Slade is also unable to train this week.
Speaking about his stricken captain Farrell, Jones said: ‘Owen’s had his operation, so he’ll be out of the Six Nations. It’s a massive blow for him, and for the team it’s a blow.
‘Owen’s one of the most resilient, driven players I know. He has to have the operation, rehab, go through all that pain, but he wants to captain England again. And he could come back better than ever.’
Jones admitted May was ‘more than likely’ to miss the whole tournament as well but was upbeat on Lawes’ chances of being available to face Scotland, potentially as captain, adding: ‘He’s doing really well, it’s quite positive. He’s making good steps every day.’
Jones also described Hill as ‘touch and go’ for the match at Murrayfield.
England coach Eddie Jones has to identify a replacement captain and a new-look midfield
Jones admitted Jonny May was ‘more than likely’ to miss the whole tournament as well
Marler has been laid low with Covid for a second time after a similar episode in the autumn, but Jones added: ‘It’s not a real problem for us. He played against South Africa on the back of Covid and one day’s preparation. All things being equal, he should be able to come into the camp on Monday and start training.
‘At this stage, he’s not showing any symptoms of Covid.’
Jones name-checked Tom Curry — who joined him at the tournament launch — and Luke Cowan-Dickie as candidates to deputise as captain in Farrell’s absence and amid the doubts about Lawes’ availability.
But Jones is hopeful both Joe Marler (L) and Courtney Lawes (R) will be involved for his side
He also paid tribute to Maro Itoje’s leadership after the Saracens lock led a team communication session which was diverted to a Brighton pub, after England’s squad and staff were evacuated from their Brighton hotel on Tuesday night due to a fire outside.
‘Maro did a great job, driving the team communication,’ Jones said.
‘I don’t think he did a great job with the pints though!’