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Owen Farrell latest: Cockerill on retesting, Furbank and axed Ford

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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New England assistant Richard Cockerill has insisted Eddie Jones’ squad is happy with their out-half options and an emergency call won’t be made to George Ford despite the confusion on Friday surrounding the availability of skipper Owen Farrell after he tested positive for Covid. The captain was named as the No10 on Thursday for Saturday’s match versus Tonga at Twickenham.

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It was set to be his 100th Test match appearance, as he has played on 93 occasions for England and another six times for the Lions. However, that milestone now might have to wait after Farrell was dragged into the Covid outbreak that emerged when a staff member tested positive for the virus on Thursday.

The positive staff member test resulted in additional testing being carried put and when the results came back overnight from a laboratory in Nottingham, it emerged that Farrell had returned a positive for his PCR and was now in isolation awaiting the results of further PCR and LFT tests.

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If it is determined that Farrell had a false positive, he is likely to be available to still lead England out in their Autumn Nations Series opener but the outcome of these latest tests won’t be known until later on Friday.

Farrell skipped Friday morning’s captain’s run at Twickenham and his potential matchday absence has left England with a problem to solve – do they start replacement Marcus Smith at No10, even though it wasn’t until Friday that he managed to complete a full training session this week due to injury, or do they promote George Furbank, another Test level rookie, from the bench to start at out-half for the first time at international level?

Furbank’s three previous starts with England have been at full-back, although he replaced Smith when he came off the bench when winning his fourth cap last July against Canada. That is a decision that Cockerill was understandably coy about given that Farrell hasn’t yet officially been ruled out of Saturday’s match. “He [Farrell] is in isolation. We are going through the normal protocols. He is fine. We are just waiting to see what happens next. We are all retesting and we will go through the protocols. Hopefully, he will be good to be playing for us but at this point [11am on Friday], we will just have to wait and see.

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“As far as I am aware we should know at some point today what the situation will be. The medical team are going through those processes and the protocols. If Owen is available he will play, as simple as that. We will be guided by the medics and see exactly what the situation is. If he is good to go he will be in the team… No, that has not been possible (to identify the source of the outbreak). We don’t know where the source has come from. The medical team are working through that process as we speak.”

Asked might an emergency call be put into Ford, who for years was Jones’ first choice No10 until he was axed from recent England squads, Cockerill added: “No. We are waiting on what happens with Owen and we are comfortable with the No10 options we have. Eddie will make those decisions, he is the guy that makes those calls. As and if appropriate, Eddie will do what he sees fit.

“That [calling up Ford or anyone else] is probably not a question for me. Eddie will make those calls. At this point in time, we are happy with the options we have at ten… We have got great options in both the leadership and the No10 position. Everybody (other than Farrell) has trained fully this morning and they are all fit and well.

“He [Furbank] has done it previously. He has trained in that (No10) position in the last couple of weeks. He is a very good option if required… He has played there for his club. He is a very talented player, great instincts and he will take it in his stride. We have got no concerns with our options in that position. Whoever starts and finishes there is more than capable of doing what we need them to do.”

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Cockerill felt that the Friday morning upheaval won’t affect the England focus. “We have got a leadership group, we have got a good group of players and things get thrown at you so you just have to deal with the adversity and we just have to take the next step forward.

“We have done that. I’m not sure I particularly want to discuss who was playing where and why in the captain’s run, that is not for me to discuss or give away. We are well prepared, we have contingencies. We have got a resilient group and it is a good test for this group to make sure whatever happens we perform and do exactly what we want to do.”

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