Six Nations: Toby Flood 'on standby' with injured Owen Farrell likely to be saved for Grand Slam climax against Wales

No 10 may not be risked against Italy even if he recovers but Burns can earn place on the bench

Everything is falling into place for England as they go in search of a first Six Nations clean sweep in a decade: even the body count. No sooner did Stuart Lancaster, the red-rose coach, learn that Owen Farrell, his number one No 10, might struggle to recover from a thigh injury in time to face Italy at Twickenham in nine days' time than Freddie Burns of Gloucester, the outside-half most obviously equipped to challenge Farrell's supremacy, was judged fit enough to start tonight's big Premiership game at Bath after six long weeks of inactivity.

If Burns survives what is certain to be a testing 80 minutes against his home-town club – his departure for Kingsholm in 2008 caused ructions behind the scenes at the Recreation Ground, where he had been a highly-regarded academy member – he may well be added to the England squad for the meeting with the Azzurri and given a place on the bench. This will allow Lancaster to promote Toby Flood of Leicester to the starting line-up and give Farrell all the quality R&R he needs ahead of the trip to Wales on 16 March. Now there's timing for you.

Needless to say, Lancaster did not rule Farrell out of the running for the Italy encounter in issuing his Six Nations fallow-week update: the coach likes to have all the relevant facts, figures, fitness reports and form guides at his fingertips before making a decisive call. But he indicated that even if Farrell claims to be 100 per cent right, he might be told to take the weekend off. The Wales game is far too important to play fast and loose with a player who means so much to the side.

"Owen is suffering from a strained quad muscle," Lancaster reported. "He's making good progress, but as things stand he's only 50-50 for Italy. We think he'll be running next week, but the issue will come when he has to kick. We have to make sure the injury heals properly: it has to settle to the point where he can be judged fit beyond mere running fitness. If we think there's a possibility that he'll break down again, we won't risk him."

Lancaster has grown deeply familiar with the No 10 breakdown syndrome. Flood started the first three games of the autumn series before sustaining a toe injury against South Africa that gave Farrell – and, towards the end of proceedings, Burns – a chance to shine in the momentous victory over the All Blacks. Burns was the next to crack, damaging knee ligaments in the early stages of a European club match against the French side Mont-de-Marsan in mid-January. Now that Farrell is struggling, no one can accuse the rugby gods of favouritism.

Flood acknowledged that he was formally "on standby". Honest man that he is, he also admitted that his recent tour of bench duty, understudying a rival half a dozen years his junior, was "a fair reflection of where things stand at the moment – the result of my own injury misfortune and the form of others".

But in saying that, he sounded perfectly happy with his lot. "I can cope with it," he remarked. "There is real solidarity about this squad. Everything is completely team-oriented; no one tries to be a show pony. Before a result comes performance, and before performance comes culture. Last year, we concentrated on getting our culture absolutely right, and funnily enough, we've started winning games."

Lancaster added he would not make wholesale changes for the fun of it for the Italy game. "We want to be reasonably consistent in our approach to selection," he said.

But there are likely to be some tinkerings. Danny Care, the Harlequins scrum-half, and Mako Vunipola, the Saracens prop, are thought to be under careful consideration for starting places, and a second Vunipola, the uncapped Wasps No 8 Billy, might well challenge for a bench spot after resuming full training over the last couple of days.

As ever, the precise make-up of the midfield will dominate discussions among the red-rose hierarchy. The fact that Lancaster has not released the inside centre Billy Twelvetrees back to Gloucester for their important derby business this evening suggests he is in the frame for a start, but the uncertain Farrell-Flood-Burns scenario will play a part in the thinking. Should Burns fail to survive his trial at the Rec, either Twelvetrees or the full-back Alex Goode could find himself as England's back-up No 10 a week on Sunday.

None of the fly-half challengers operate on quite as short a fuse as Farrell, who, rather peculiarly given the molten heat of the competitive fire that burns within him and makes him the player he is, was criticised in some quarters for being overly aggressive during last weekend's victory over France.

Lancaster was pressed on this and seemed rather bemused, although he did confess that one or two of his charges allowed themselves to be caught up unnecessarily in outbreaks of argy-bargy.

"I don't think we have a fundamental discipline issue at all," the coach argued. "We've spoken as a group about maintaining focus and composure, because opponents will do everything in their power to upset and niggle. But it's not a big issue: I certainly didn't feel Owen's game management was affected by anything that happened. If you're not on the edge, you can be blown away by a highly motivated team. "

As expected, a group of orthopaedically challenged players who have yet to appear in the Six Nations will miss the entire tournament. The centre Jonathan Joseph, the prop Alex Corbisiero, the flankers Calum Clark, Tom Johnson and Tom Croft will not be in the shake-up for the remaining fixtures, although there are high hopes that Croft, feeling his way back after a serious neck injury, will string together a run of club games for Leicester before the end of the season and therefore be available for the summer tour of Argentina.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
arts + entsJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
football

Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday

News
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker