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Jones' latest England squad injury update features Marcus Smith

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Eddie Jones’ preparations ahead of next Saturday’s England match versus Tonga at Twickenham have been affected by injuries that have made Max Malins, Raffi Quirke and Louis Lynagh all unavailable for selection while minor leg knocks have cast doubt over the availability of Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward.

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The England boss has described himself as being cautiously optimistic that Smith and Steward will both eventually come right and will be part of the plan when the team to face Tonga at the weekend will be announced on Thursday.

“We have got a few injury updates for you,” said Jones at the top of his England media briefing on Tuesday. “We had Max Malins (calf) and Raffi Quirke (knee) come into camp with injuries so they have been rehabbing, they won’t be considered for selection for the Tongan game but we are hopeful they are going to be fitter further down the track.

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“Louis Lynagh came in a bit beaten up from his game against Saracens and has not been able to train with us. We have got two other niggles and we are not sure whether the players are going to be available to be selected. Marcus and Freddie Steward have got minor leg injuries but we are cautiously optimistic they will be available for selection for the game against Tonga.”

After throwing the floor open to questions, Jones elaborated on that injury situation regarding Smith who debuted in July, went on to tour with the Lions and is now keeping George Ford, the regular England No10 in recent years, out of the squad.

“He hasn’t done much this week, just a bit of ball handling. We are being conservative with him but we are cautiously optimistic he will be right to play. The last call we make is 48 hours before the game… We are not desperate, we’re never desperate (to pick a player), but we are keen for him to be involved in the game. It’s not frustrating, it’s part and parcel of preparing a team and players will pick up small knocks. He will recover well and if we don’t get to see him this week we will get to see him next week.”

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There was no temptation to now suddenly recall the axed Ford, Jones later elaborating that even George Furbank was a cover option at ten if skipper Owen Farrell had to start there instead of Smith. “We think within the squad we have got enough cover if Marcus is not available. We are cautiously optimistically he is available. We’re ready for that [Smith not being available]. He [Furbank] has definitely been training at ten and we definitely feel he has the ability to play ten. We don’t need to worry about that until the final decision on selection needs to be made.”

Switching to the other injuries, Jones added: “With Max unavailable because of the injury he brought into the camp we thought we needed additional cover but unfortunately Louis is injured as well. We were hopeful he was going to recover but he hasn’t been able to train today [Tuesday] so it has been a difficult situation for the young lad.

“He hasn’t been able to train,” continued Jones about Quirke. “He came in with a knee injury but we are hopeful he will be available for the Australian game.” Quirke’s absence versus Tonga, coupled with the withdrawal of Harry Randall from the squad, has now opened up the prospect of Alex Mitchell making his Test debut. “He is a good chance to have an opportunity on Saturday.”

Despite the casualty list, Jones reported that the mood in the England camp in London was positive and he has been delighted with the opportunity to rebuild the squad in recent months with the 2023 World Cup in France in mind.

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“Really good, really positive. We had a good positive week in Jersey. It’s quite an interesting squad. We have got 14 players from the 2019 World Cup squad and then 17, 18, 19 players who are probably all under ten caps.

“We have got quite an experienced group and then this young breed of what is going to be ‘New England’ and the excitement of putting those two groups together is high. We tried to do a lot of things in Jersey to give them opportunities to share experiences which they did well and now the training has been really high quality.

“There are very few times at international level you get to rebuild a team the second time and I have got the opportunity personally to do that and bringing these young players through at the same time trying to get the best out of the experienced players is a very good challenge. The expectation at international level is always that you never drop off so, we have got to make sure we can blend the team as quickly as we can to put in the sort of performances we want to see.”

That challenge begins on Saturday against a Tongan squad that has brought in some reinforcements following last weekend’s hammering by Scotland at Murrayfield. “It was a tough day for them but we know they have brought nine new players into the squad, most of which play in the top level in France, so they will add some starch and stability to a Tongan side that will play with plenty of pride at Twickenham.”

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