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An afternoon meeting will decide if a Marler replacement is needed

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images)

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New England defence coach Anthony Seibold has explained that a Tuesday afternoon meeting will decide if a replacement is needed in Eddie Jones’ squad after it was confirmed earlier in the day that loosehead Joe Marler, a replacement in last Saturday’s win over Tonga, was ruled out of next Saturday’s game versus the Wallabies.

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Marler tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday evening while in England camp. However, unlike the debate that ensued after Owen Farrell initially tested coming into last weekend and was eventually determined to have registered a false-positive finding, the RFU have confirmed that the loosehead has failed follow-up tests and had definitely contacted the virus. 

The sudden unavailability of Marler, who has gone into isolation for ten days, now leave Jones with a decision to make as the absence of the Harlequins front-rower has left England with just two looseheads in their current squad of 34.

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Ellis Genge, one of the three newly appointed vice-captains, wore the No1 jersey last Saturday versus Tonga but Trevor Davison, the unused loosehead in the squad of 28 retained for the final training sessions in the lead-up to the England Autumn Nations Series opener, has just a single cap to his credit at Test level. 

With Marler unavailable to participate in England training until November 18, two days before the series finale versus the Springboks, there is speculation that Jones will call on Mako Vunipola to fill the void. The 2019 World Cup final starter was one of Jones’ high profile omissions from recent England squads but there is now a vacancy that needs a discussion. However, Test rookie Bevan Rodd is also a contender having been in the England training squad in late September. 

“We are having those conversations now,” explained Anthony Seibold, the new England defence coach, when he appeared at a lunchtime media briefing on Tuesday. “We have just come off the training paddock and we have got a coaches meeting in a little while post-lunch. That will be part of that conversation… I haven’t spoken to Joe personally myself. I only found out the news this morning prior to training. A lot of the event happened late evening, overnight. I haven’t spoken to Joe but I know he is being well cared for.

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“Trevor has been in camp the whole time. I know he has done some reps there during our time in camp. Again, that is a decision for Eddie and also Matt Proudfoot, our forwards coach. In the first instance (with Farrell having to miss out) at the weekend we showed that we were able to handle that disruption and I have been really impressed with the way the group handled this morning and overnight. 

“Late evening yesterday we got some news that we had to go back to our rooms and so on and we have handled it in the right manner. We had a bit of a late start to the morning because we were waiting for some results and so on but it has been business as usual. The group has handled that disruption so to speak and I thought we had a really positive training session.”

An RFU spokesperson has outlined at the start of the briefing: “The squad all did scheduled lateral flow testing yesterday evening. Joe returned a positive and immediately went into isolation. Supporting testing, additional lateral flow and PCR, has confirmed it is a positive. We are very comfortable that he is Covid positive and we will not ask for a retest because unlike the last situation the supporting testing confirms it. 

“They have all undergone additional lateral flow testing and all have returned negative results. We have done another round of PCR and are just awaiting results on that. If we have any negative or bad news on that we will update you but fingers crossed we do not. Everyone has trained this morning. They have gone out (and trained) as a squad.” 

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Seibold is only weeks into his new role as England defence coach having replaced John Mitchell, who moved onto Wasps in the off-season following a falling out with Jones. The Australian newcomer claimed he has settled in well. “I have really enjoyed my time so far. I have been here for two-and-a-half weeks.

It has been really interesting working with the group and the coaching staff as well. I have been super-impressed with the professionalism of staff and players and I have really enjoyed myself, but we know there are some bigger tests to come over the next couple of weeks. 

“I have had a relationship with Eddie since probably 2017. I was head coach of the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL and Eddie did some professional development learning with me and we stayed in contact. I was doing some things remote for Eddie before the job offer came up.

“We have had a relationship that has been going for four, five years now, a lot of shared learning and I have learned a lot from Eddie. I am hopeful I have been able to pass on a couple of things to him that he has been able to take away.”

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