Eddie Jones is having to rethink his front row ahead of this Sunday’s fixture against Ireland after loosehead prop Mako Vunipola pulled out for personal reasons. 

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The Saracens prop flew to Tonga for family reasons, a development that resulted in Bath’s Ben Obano being called into the squad ahead of the round three Guinness Six Nations encounter. 

Jones will be in quandary as to who he will replace Vunipola with given the events of the championship so far. Joe Marler started at loosehead against France in the opening game of the tournament but was not part of the matchday 23 against Scotland upon Vunipola’s return. 

Meanwhile, Ellis Genge started on the bench in both Tests and has done some damage in his cameos. Excluding his year out of Test rugby, Marler has frequently been used by Jones as the backup to the Saracens prop, but the impact that 25-year-old Genge has had on the team in the closing stages of the matches against France and Scotland is hard to ignore. 

The Leicester Tigers prop made an instant impression against France, clattering into Romain Ntamack and providing his trademark strength with ball in hand against a robust defence. A week later, he scored the only try of the match against Scotland. 

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After his display at Murrayfield, there were calls for Genge to start the next Test, particularly in an England team that seem light of ball carriers. Now, in Vunipola’s absence, it has only helped his selection cause even more. 

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Harlequins’ Marler did nothing wrong against France and is an ever-dependable presence in the front row for England. 

He is a strong scrummager and may potentially have the edge over Genge in that department, but he does not make as much of a footprint on the game in the loose as his team-mate does. 

That is why Genge is proving to be a popular option to start against Ireland, something that should allow England get the full benefit of ‘Baby Rhino’ for the best part of an hour. 

It is hard to truly replicate Vunipola, as the 29-year-old’s distribution and subtle hands mark him out as one of the best props in the world. But Genge equally brings brute force which is matched by very few. 

Of course, Genge’s style suits that of an impact sub, a responsibility he has handled with great aplomb so far this Championship. Conversely, Marler would struggle to make the same kind of impact from the bench, although that has often been his role under Jones behind Vunipola. 

This will, therefore, be a hard decision for Jones to decide upon, as Obano will also be in contention as an equally explosive option from the bench amid the growing campaign for Genge to start. 

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