Dan Kelly injury deepens England’s crisis at centre as Scotland match nears
England’s injury crisis at centre has worsened before their Six Nations opener on Saturday with Dan Kelly the latest to be ruled out, raising the prospect of a Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell 10-12 axis against Scotland.
Kelly has been ruled out with a thigh injury, joining fellow centres Elliot Daly and Henry Slade on the sidelines, and leaving Farrell as one of few options for Steve Borthwick at inside-centre. Guy Porter has been summoned into camp while Manu Tuilagi, Joe Marchant and Ollie Lawrence are alternatives but with his midfield options dwindling, Borthwick will now surely be tempted to deploy Farrell at inside-centre to bolster such a key area of the field.
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Eddie Jones fielded a midfield of Smith, Farrell and Tuilagi in England’s last match – the dismal defeat by South Africa in late November – and though Borthwick was expected to make changes he may now ultimately stick with the same trio. The England management have hinted that they consider Farrell’s best position to be fly-half but circumstances may dictate that the captain continues to wait for his first start in the No 10 jersey since the 2021 Six Nations.
Kelly’s absence is a blow because, while he has just one cap to his name – against Canada in July 2021 – he was an integral part of Borthwick’s title-winning Leicester side. If Borthwick still opts to revert Farrell to fly-half, Tuilagi is the likely candidate for the inside-centre berth with Marchant, Lawrence or even Tommy Freeman outside him. Equally, Porter is a versatile, no-frills centre that Borthwick knows well from Leicester.
Kelly’s absence this week is a further headache Borthwick could do without with Courtney Lawes, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tom Curry also absent through injury as well as Slade and Daly. With George McGuigan also sidelined, Borthwick will be desperately hoping Jamie George comes through the return to play protocols after a concussion to take his place at hooker on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the under-fire Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney was paid £668,000 for the year ending June 2022, according to the govern body’s belatedly published annual report. That represents almost a 25% increase on the previous year, which included three-months’ salary reduction as a result of the pandemic. The report also showed revenues of £189.1m – a rise of £92.1m, thanks in the main to the return of full attendances at Twickenham Test matches.
Sweeney is facing calls to resign from his position for the RFU’s botched handling of the decision to lower the tackle height in the community game and has endured a torrid year, having been accused of being “asleep on the job” at a parliamentary inquiry into the demise of Wasps and Worcester. He also faced questions as to why, having given Eddie Jones his resolute backing despite a poor Six Nations last year, he saw fit to sack the Australian 10 months before the World Cup.
His failure to insert a non-compete clause in Jones’s severance package has also raised the prospect of Jones, now in charge of Australia, returning to haunt his former employers at this year’s World Cup. Sweeney also suffered a pulmonary embolism in April.
Simon Massie-Taylor, who was announced as Premiership Rugby’s chief executive in October 2021, was paid £150,000 by the RFU for the final months of his employment as chief commercial and marketing officer. Massie-Taylor was also taken to task by the DCMS select committee, which this month stated that he and Sweeney had been “complacent” and that, “the demise during the playing season of two Premiership clubs is a stain on the reputation of the RFU and PRL”.