Barritt eyes recovery but Brown thumbs lift home
A bruised and beaten England, aching in every limb, left Durban for the thin air of South Africa's biggest city yesterday with the centre Brad Barritt on their minds. By the time they landed, the bad news had shifted towards the full-back Mike Brown. If Barritt, who suffered a gruesome eye injury in the first Test with the Springboks at Kings Park, may yet play a further part in this series, Brown is officially off tour, with damaged thumb ligaments.
Barritt needed surgery to repair damage to his eyeball and eyelid lining after being hurt in a tackle on his opposite number, Frans Steyn, early in the second half of Saturday's game. Courageously he continued, hurling himself into a subsequent ruck before being led from the field with his left eye swollen and shut. He stayed in Durban, his home town, after having stitches inserted in his eyeball. Unlikely as it may sound, there is a chance of him returning to full training a week today and recapturing his place for the third and final Test in Port Elizabeth.
If Brown's injury was less grisly – the Harlequin, impressive on his return to Test rugby after a four-year break, was hurt in attempting to prevent the Springbok captain, Jean de Villiers, scoring his side's second try – it will prove more frustrating. He is likely to be out for eight weeks and miss a good deal of the Premiership champions' pre-season preparations.
The England management were last night finalising plans to fly in a replacement for Brown, with Nick Abendanon of Bath – another player of South African ancestry – among the possibilities. Fortunately for the tourists, there are comfortably enough midfielders around to cover Barritt's absence.
England have a significant midweek game against the South African Barbarians in Kimberley on Wednesday and it is not out of the question that a strong individual performance could influence Lancaster's thinking ahead of this weekend's Test at Ellis Park. Certainly, midfield options will be at the heart of discussions.
Owen Farrell, the 20-year-old Saracens fly-half, has been the recipient of a good deal of criticism since the Durban contest, despite Lancaster's assertion that he had shown a "tremendous temperament and great composure". Farrell made his share of errors and was guilty of some questionable decisions on the game-management front, but he defended magnificently, kicked four goals from five attempts and set up Ben Foden's late try with a finely judged floated pass off his left hand.
If Lancaster decides to recall Toby Flood of Leicester – Flood's form since last year's World Cup has served as a reminder of his rough treatment at the hands of the previous management in the second half of 2011 – he could run him alongside Farrell. The new coach said at the start of his tenure that he wanted two footballing midfielders; indeed, he began by pairing Farrell with Charlie Hodgson.
There has also been talk of shifting Manu Tuilagi to inside centre from his customary position at No 13. This would appear to have less going for it: Tuilagi has no kicking game to speak of and if creative distribution is one of his strengths, he has kept it to himself. Another possibility is the fast-tracking of the exciting London Irish centre Jonathan Joseph into the starting line-up, but Lancaster would do better to play him off the bench at Ellis Park, albeit for longer than he did in Durban.
If, as seems likely at this stage, Foden resumes the full-back role in Brown's absence, the candidates for the left wing include David Strettle and Ugo Monye. However, Lancaster is known to be interested in Alex Goode of Saracens as a full-back of the future, and Goode will be given a chance to impress in Kimberley.
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