Eddie Jones has declared he isn’t the slightest bit worried should an injury to Owen Farrell force England into a Six Nations emergency during their title match with Italy this Saturday, the coach insisting he has ready-made alternatives in full-back George Furbank and midfielder Henry Slade. 

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With regular No10 George Ford sidelined through injury for the delayed championship finale, Jones has responded by shifting skipper Farrell from No12 to start at out-half in what will be his first action of any kind since his September 5 red card while playing for Saracens. 

However, rather than pick a specialist out-half to sit on the bench as cover, Jones has instead chosen two-cap scrum-half Dan Robson and uncapped duo Ollie Lawrence (an outside centre) and Ollie Thorley (a winger) as his backline replacements. 

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Billy Vunipola sets the scene ahead of England’s game with Italy

That will force England to improvise at Stadio Olimpico should anything happen to Farrell as they chase the big win that can catapult them towards a first Six Nations title since 2017 – Furbank has just two caps to his name, both at full-back last February, while the more experienced Slade has mainly won his caps on midfield duty.

Jones, though, has no qualms about pushing one of them into the Farrell role if needed. “There are two good options, Henry or George Furbank, and we’re extremely comfortable with either of those guys stepping into the breach there,” said Jones ahead of a match where he will field an England XV showing seven changes from their last outing, the March win over Wales. 

“George Furbank has been training with us now for too many camps, Barbarians week and this week, and every time he has stepped into the 10 he looks an absolute natural there. We don’t have any worries about him. And we know Henry is the type of player who can play 12, 13, 15, can play left wing, can play 10. He is a beautiful catcher and passer of the ball, has got a great left foot and we’re happy with either of those two options. We’ll decide (who) on the day mate, depending on the situation.”

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Questioned whether recent double success with Exeter can now lift Slade’s general midfield play on to another level in the Test arena, Jones took exception to the query, retorting that the 27-year-old has been bang on form for some considerable time. 

“I find that comment a bit unusual because Henry had a terrific World Cup for us. He was absolutely outstanding. Six Nations he came in injured and was only available for the last couple of games if I remember correctly and then played superbly at 15 in the last game I think it was, so he has been in great form. 

“He managed his lockdown time well, has come back and continued. Has he been better for Exeter? I don’t know. He has certainly been in good form for a long period of time now. For me he is just one of the outstanding rugby players in England.”

Jones was also chippy in response to the suggestion that Furbank’s form with England and Northampton was, by consensus, not the greatest in 2020. “Common consent has its own opinion. I’m not going to debate common consent,” he replied.

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“Selection is always about judgment and he is a very good player. We were really happy with what he did in the Six Nations. He had a difficult game against France, which the whole team did. Playing at 15 behind a team that is getting beating on the gainline is difficult.

“He responded very well in the Scotland game and like a lot of young players, the second season in a club season is always more difficult. Everyone knows about a player, teams try to take away your strengths and attack your weaknesses. 

“It’s a test of a player’s ability to keep getting better and what we have seen from George is that desire to keep wanting to get better. He’s been a standout for us in our preparations so far.”

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