If Scott Johnson started it – the new Scotland coach landed the first verbal blow of the Calcutta Cup build-up by making a loaded point about England's unusually lavish resources – the red-rose strategists intend to finish it. "Very funny," remarked Andy Farrell, responding to Johnson's widely quoted remarks about the England casualty list. "Hilarious. We won't be addressing it in public, but there'll be plenty said behind closed doors."
England have not always done their talking in private: if Sir Clive Woodward had something to say about the opposition during his long tour of duty with the national team – particularly opposition of the Scottish variety – he generally shouted it from the nearest available rooftop. But Stuart Lancaster, the current head coach, is not cut from the same cloth, and Farrell, one of his principal aides, is happy to play it as the boss sees it.
Even so, his tone confirmed that Johnson had succeeded in getting under English skins when, asked about the injuries affecting the prop Alex Corbisiero and the centre Manu Tuilagi, the Scotland coach said: "That's a sad story. I guess it only leaves them with another 40,000 players to pick from."
Tuilagi found himself the subject of considerable discussion when Farrell confirmed his absence from training for a fourth consecutive day. The human bowling ball is suffering from ankle trouble and his chances of facing the Scots at Twickenham next weekend are diminishing by the hour. If he fails to resume rolling by Monday, the England midfield that starts the Six Nations could look very different from the one that ripped up the All Blacks last time out.
Given that Lancaster is wedded to the idea that players who do a top job in one game deserve to play in the next one, the easiest solution would be to keep the Saracens midfielders Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt in their respective positions of outside-half and inside centre, and replace Tuilagi with the other specialist No 13 in the squad, Jonathan Joseph of London Irish. But Joseph is in the midst of a quiet spell, so the possibility of recalling the experienced Leicester playmaker Toby Flood to the line-up – or even blooding the gifted Gloucester newcomer Billy Twelvetrees between Farrell and Barritt – is not out of the question.
Another issue surrounds the full-back Alex Goode, who will complete his recovery from a shoulder injury by playing for Saracens against Cardiff Blues in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on Sunday. Goode is an important figure, especially if Lancaster is to pursue his plan of employing his No 15 as the "second footballer" in the back line, but with two contrasting full-backs, Mike Brown of Harlequins and Ben Foden of Northampton, also in the shake-up, the selectors can afford to give him more time.
Interestingly, the eye-catching young Wasps back Elliot Daly has been picked at 15 for the second-string England Saxons, who face a difficult examination against the Irish Wolfhounds in Galway tonight.
Jordan Crane of Leicester will lead the side from No 8, with two outstanding Saracens prospects, George Kruis and Will Fraser, on the flanks. As expected, the teenage outside-half George Ford plays in the pivot position after a week of claim and counter-claim on the subject of his proposed move from Leicester to Bath.
One piece of business formally completed concerned Kahn Fotuali'i, just about the world's best scrum-half. The New Zealand-born Samoan will join Northampton at the end of the season after deciding to end a productive stint with the Ospreys, the strongest of the four Welsh regional sides.Reuse content