The most surprising thing about Charlie Hodgson's finger injury, which will prevent the England fly-half facing the Triple Crown-chasing Welsh at Twickenham tomorrow, is that it did not happen in charge-down practice. Hodgson has scored both England's Six Nations tries so far by such a method.
"It was totally innocuous: we were doing some unopposed training and Charlie managed to catch his finger in another player's shirt and rip open his finger," said Stuart Lancaster, the caretaker coach. "He needed half a dozen stitches but the real problem was the swelling. We gave him as long as we felt we could, but he's had a fitness test and it's plain that he has problems catching and passing the ball. He can't even grip it properly."
The coach gave no indication that he might be frustrated at losing his most seasoned back ahead of the 80 minutes that might decide his own future at Test level. "It means an opportunity for someone else," Lancaster said. The "someone else" is the 20-year-old Saracen Owen Farrell (right), who moves from centre. It is no small thing to ask a player of such limited experience to run the show on such a big occasion.
"Toby Flood was an option," said Lancaster, referring to the Leicester Tiger who had a long run as England's No 10. "But 10 is a key decision-making position and anyone playing there needs a good knowledge of systems, structures and dynamics. Toby has been injured and played for his club last Sunday because he needed game time. Because of that, he couldn't train with us on Monday.
"Owen has been involved with us right the way through and this gives us a chance to look at him in the 10 shirt. His temperament speaks for itself and the fact that we're so confident in his ability to perform this role is great testament to his game understanding, his core skills and the way he does what he does."
Farrell, who has two caps, could at some stage be faced by Stephen Jones, who has 104. The Scarlets fly-half has come on to the Wales bench in place of James Hook, who has chicken pox.
By handing Farrell a new set of responsibilities, Lancaster created room for the World Cup centre Manu Tuilagi to start alongside Brad Barritt.
England's other changes are Geoff Parling for Tom Palmer at lock, Ben Morgan for Phil Dowson at No 8 and Lee Dickson for Ben Youngs at scrum-half. It is a good while since England took the field with such little know-how in positions of major significance, but as Farrell said: "Because we're in a new system with new coaches, we're all on the same page and growing at the same rate. We're a tight-knit group and we'll feed off each other."
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