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
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
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

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game