If the England coaches thought things could hardly get worse after the heavy injury fall-out from last weekend’s brutal round of European Champions Cup matches, they could not have been more mistaken.
Owen Farrell, out of the red-rose starting line-up but still crucial to the fortunes of the national team, is not merely out of next week’s Six Nations trip to Wales. He will miss the entire tournament.
Farrell was substituted in the opening quarter of Saracens’ defeat by a powerful Clermont Auvergne in central France on Sunday and returned home on crutches. Yesterday, medical staff decided he was suffering from a “high grade medial ligament strain” that will probably leave him incapacitated for a couple of months at least.
However quickly the Lions Test midfielder recovers, it will not be fast enough for the England coach Stuart Lancaster, who had been banking on his presence in what promises to be the most bitterly fought championship in years.
Attention now switches to another Saracens back, the centre Brad Barritt, who also suffered a medial ligament injury in Clermont-Ferrand. Lancaster did not rule out the team’s defensive kingpin – like the Leicester lock Geoff Parling, another man struggling with a dodgy knee joint, Barritt is officially “under treatment” – but the signs are not great, and if he joins his clubmate on the list of unavailables, England will cross the Severn Bridge without their most dependable back-foot operators.
As recently as a fortnight ago, the coaches were looking to pair Barritt with the Northampton centre Luther Burrell in the belief that this combination would stand the best chance of stopping Welsh pair Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in their tracks.
There are also concerns over the Bath inside centre Kyle Eastmond, who might have brought something very different to England’s attacking game had he been picked. That seems a long shot now, sadly: Eastmond aggravated a shoulder injury during his club’s victory over Glasgow on Sunday and there were rumours afterwards that he had suffered a dislocation.
If Burrell passes his concussion protocols and is cleared to play, he is likely to be selected – possibly alongside the in-form Jonathan Joseph of Bath or the Gloucester playmaker Billy Twelvetrees. The latter has not shown the best of himself for a while, yet in last season’s Six Nations, he and Burrell were largely responsible for a startling expansion of England’s attacking game.
Lancaster, who is also missing Manu Tuilagi, described Farrell’s latest misfortune as “a real shame”, but emphasised that with George Ford of Bath in pole position for the start at No 10 and two more outside-halves, Stephen Myler of Northampton and Danny Cipriani of Sale, competing for the understudy role, all was not lost.
If the decision is made on goal-kicking reliability, Myler will have the advantage. If, on the other hand, England want to take Wales by storm with some attacking pizzazz, the lost genius of red rose rugby could suddenly be rediscovered.Reuse content