Farrell and George out of South Africa game in double blow for England

England are preparing for Saturday’s World Cup final rematch against South Africa without their captain Owen Farrell and facing a front-row crisis after Eddie Jones was dealt a huge double injury blow on Monday.

Both Farrell and Jamie George have been ruled out with ankle and knee injuries respectively, leaving Jones without his chief lieutenant and severely depleted front-row ranks with South Africa, by contrast, bringing their infamous “Bomb Squad” to Twickenham.

Both players are due to see specialists this week after suffering their injuries during last weekend’s 32-15 win over Australia with Farrell limping off in considerable pain in the second half. Having had to isolate and miss the victory over Tonga earlier this month the latest blow rounds off a miserable autumn for the 30-year-old.

His absence suggests Jones will revert to a centre pairing of Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade, with Marcus Smith continuing at fly-half, but Farrell’s influence on the side will be sorely missed. It will be only the 10th match in Jones’s reign in which Farrell has not appeared and without him Courtney Lawes is the favourite for the captaincy, having assumed the role against Tonga.

George’s absence, meanwhile, makes Jones’s front-row problem all the more acute. Jamie Blamire, who has scored six tries in his four England appearances, is now in line for the No 2 jersey but the 23-year-old has made just three Premiership starts. Jack Singleton, who has three replacement appearances for England, has been called into the squad while the uncapped Nic Dolly could also provide hooker cover against the Springboks.

Already, however, Jones has problems at loosehead prop after last week Ellis Genge and Joe Marler contracted Covid-19, forcing both players into isolation and out of the Australia match. Genge cannot face South Africa but Marler is due to resume training on Friday just 24 hours before England host the Springboks. The 21-year-old Bevan Rodd, who made his debut against the Wallabies, is standing by for another start while Jones has added the uncapped Harry Elrington to his squad to provide cover along with Trevor Davison.

Tellingly, however, Mako Vunipola, who has 67 England caps and a further nine Test appearances for the British & Irish Lions, has not been called upon. The 30-year-old, along with brother Billy, has been omitted from the squad this season and Jones made clear last week that he was taking the side in a different direction with the 2023 World Cup in mind.

The upshot is that Jones must select a considerably understrength front row against one of the most powerful scrummaging sides in the world. England were outgunned in that department in the 2019 World Cup final, after losing Kyle Sinckler to a head injury in the third minute, and ultimately succumbed 32-12 in Yokohama.

Highlighting the difference in experience, South Africa have started Ox Nché, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane in their two autumn victories against Wales and Scotland before replacing all three simultaneously with the equally formidable Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch either at half-time or soon after. The tactic has led to the Springboks reinforcements earning their “Bomb Squad” nickname.

“We work as two front rows, we work hard in training,” said Kitshoff. “They are a great fun, they bring a lot of intensity in that first half, they go flat out every scrum, it’s do or die, every scrum is a massive battle. For us it’s about trying to stay on a par with them and even try and lift the intensity a little bit if we can.

“Being part of the Bomb Squad, there’s a lot of pride but it’s the team’s plan and we’re willing to just execute whatever is best for the team because the Springboks team comes first. We know our role, we know what we need to do, everything is planned out during the week and we understand our job and responsibility and we give it everything we can.”

Meanwhile, England’s Maro Itoje has been named as one of the four nominees for World Rugby’s player of the year but the Springboks are conspicuously absent from the shortlist. Itoje is joined by the Australian duo Samu Kerevi and Michael Hooper as well as France’s scrum-half Antoine Dupont despite South Africa’s series win over the Lions and victory over the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship. Jacques Nienaber is also missing from the coach of the year shortlist. Ireland will face Argentina this weekend without their captain Johnny Sexton who suffered an ankle and knee injury against New Zealand and is set to be sidelined for up to six weeks.

Comments are closed.