England have back-row problems

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 07:30
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: England coach Eddie Jones is set to unveil his squad for the end-of-year internationals on Friday, with injuries to first-choice back-row forwards leaving the Australian with some interesting selection decisions.

Jones is due to unveil a 45-man squad on Friday which will in turn be reduced to around 30 for a three-day training camp in Brighton, on England's south coast, starting on Sunday.

Former Australia and Japan coach Jones had presided over an impressive transformation in England's fortunes, having taking over after they became the first World Cup host nation to be knocked out of the tournament in the first round at last year's edition.

Jones has since overseen a run of nine straight wins, a sequence that includes a Six Nations Grand Slam and a 3-0 series win in his native Australia.

That perfect record will be at stake when four Southern Hemisphere sides - South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia - all visit Twickenham on successive weekends in November and December.

Loose forward James Haskell, a stand-out figure in the series win over the Wallabies, will miss all the upcoming four Tests with a foot injury and potential replacement Jack Clifford has also been sidelined, in his case because of an ankle problem.

Teimana Harrison is the only openside still fit from the Australia tour.

Jones has made it clear he does not regard Chris Robshaw as an openside flank, with the former England captain a rejuvenated figure on the blindside after a frustrating World Cup.

"Robshaw's not an option. He's a six [blindside]," said Jones, who added that Nathan Hughes's future lies elsewhere in the back row.

Harrison, however, will have to prove to Jones that he has the strength up front required to a last a full 80 minutes of gruelling international rugby after being replaced just 31 minutes into the final Test against Australia in Sydney.

Jones has labelled South Africa, England's opening November opponents, as "bullies" and the Red Rose coach said: "Harrison needs to show that he can physically take those guys on."

But with England not facing the Springboks at Twickenham until November 12, more immediate concerns surround the fitness of England captain Dylan Hartley and goalkicking ace Owen Farrell, both struggling with back injuries.   

Farrell has yet to play this season and Hartley has been sidelined since September 11.

Saracens star Farrell helped the London club win both the English and European titles last season.

"Owen has a back problem which we are continuing to monitor," said Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall.

"It's really a day-by-day thing with Owen at the moment. It's a bit of an open-ended injury, which is always frustrating for the player and the club, but we won't risk him."

Agence France-Presse