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George Ford is to make a dramatic return to the England squad on Monday as replacement for Owen Farrell.The England captain will miss the opening Six Nations match against Scotland after suffering a new ankle injury in a freak training accident last Wednesday. The 30-year-old is due to see a specialist to learn the extent of the injury amid fears he could miss England’s first three rounds of the championship.
Courtney Lawes, the Northampton forward, is expected to be confirmed as England’s captain in Farrell’s absence.
The setback has opened the door again for Ford, who has not played for England since the 32-18 defeat by Ireland in Dublin on March 20. The Leicester fly-half has been in outstanding form for his club, delivering what appeared to be the perfect response to the shock of being left out of England’s plans last October.
Yet doubts over whether he would feature again in Eddie Jones’s plans were underscored when the 28-year-old was again overlooked in the 36-man Six Nations squad announced last week, with Jones instead opting for Bath rookie fly-half Orlando Bailey.
When asked about Ford’s omission Jones said the selection of the squad involved data, not just his opinion or that of other coaches.
“We’ve got a way we think the game should be played now, that suits the players we have. Therefore, we pick the players that can play that game,” said Jones. “Sometimes it’s hard to explain that to the media because some of it is information we want to keep for ourselves.”
But with Farrell suffering a fresh injury, it seems the option of going into the Championship with just Marcus Smith as a starting fly-half option was felt to have been too risky. Ford will now join up with the rest of the England squad for a week-long training camp in Brighton and could find himself making a swift return to the match-day squad.
With 77 caps to his name will bring much-needed experience to preparations for the trip to Murrayfield on Feb 5. His recall for Ford, however, does not solve Jones’s midfield dilemma, given that Farrell was earmarked to start at inside centre to ease some of the game management pressure from Smith.
The prognosis for Farrell is not yet clear although his participation in the Championship remains in doubt. The England captain has not played a game since injuring his left ankle in the victory over Australia last November. He had been due to make his comeback for Saracens on Sunday, but missed the 45-24 victory over Premiership rivals London Irish which kept alive their hopes of reaching the European Challenge Cup round of 16 in April.
Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, described the new setback, which occurred in the final play of a training session last Wednesday as a “cruel” blow. “I don’t think he is going to be available for the Scotland game,” said McCall. “He is obviously hugely disappointed. It is cruel. He is not a player who has been injured very often down the years, and to get one the week he was coming back. It happened right at the end of a training session, a really accidental thing, he stood on someone’s foot and turned his ankle so we wait and see what the specialist says and see if he can play some part in the Six Nations.
“He would have played this weekend. He came through quite a hard training session brilliantly and he looked firing and ready to go. It happened right at the end, we did some extra back-line plays right at the end, an unopposed thing, so it is really unfortunate and cruel for him.
“But he is a strong character, and I am sure it won’t be long. We should know by Monday or Tuesday.”
The rest of Saracens’ England contingent – Maro Itoje and Jamie George – all came through unscathed in the seven-try victory over London Irish. Alex Lewington scored a brace against his former club, while there were also tries for Sean Maitland, Vincent Koch, Elliot Daly, Harvey Beaton and Eroni Mawi.
Irish also secured a bonus point with tries by James Stokes, Cillian Redmond, Juan Martín González and Henry Arundell.
The result moves Saracens up to third place in Pool C, level with Brive on six points ahead of their final pool match in April. Irish finish the group stage on 12 points after their four games and will definitely be in the last 16.