Eddie Jones insists Courtney Lawes’ health is the number one priority after indicating that his preferred choice as England captain will play no part in the autumn.
Lawes has made only one appearance this season because of the concussion sustained in Northampton’s defeat by Leicester on September 24, resulting in Owen Farrell being reappointed skipper for the 30-29 loss to Argentina.
But with the veteran Lions flanker still symptomatic as he progresses through the return to play protocols, Jones has all but ruled him out of the remaining Autumn Nations Series fixtures against Japan, New Zealand and South Africa.
Even if Lawes makes a rapid recovery over the coming days, a player who has a history of concussion – including a six-week spell out earlier this year – has only 49 minutes of rugby in the bank for 2022-23.
“There’s no movement with Courtney at the moment,” England head coach Jones said.
“Initially I kept in touch with Courtney but given that he needs some rest now rather than feeling like he has to rush to come back, we are allowing it to take its natural course.
“We are in communication with his medical staff but we are letting him rest and come back. We’re hopeful that he will be back for the Six Nations and ready to go.
“I’m worried about his health at this time – that he gets back to 100 per cent health. But these things have a natural course – some heal quicker than others.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 7, 2022
“If it takes a little bit of time, the most important thing is his health and he’ll get back to playing rugby when he’s ready.”
With Lawes out, Farrell will continue to lead England as they plot their recovery from their first loss to Argentina since 2009.
Jones has taken responsibility for a flat display lacking in intensity, attacking cohesion and discipline, admitting that he had allowed planning for next year’s World Cup – where they will face the Pumas in the group phase – to distract from the task at hand.
“Maybe our focus wasn’t tight enough on the Argentina game,” Jones said.
“When I reflect on the game, we’d been looking at a number of long-term strategies that we’re trying to employ to get ourselves set for the World Cup.
— Autumn Nations Series (@autumnnations) November 7, 2022
“We looked at times like we lacked a bit of energy, particularly in our attack. Maybe we’re just overthinking a bit. That’s entirely my fault.”
England have lost five of their nine Tests this year, a terrible statistic that Jones is determined to improve when Japan visit Twickenham on Saturday knowing the schedule gets harder with the arrival of heavyweights New Zealand and South Africa.
“I want us to be angry and play with a certain sort of anger. In a lot of ways I’m really pleased with how we played against Argentina, even though it wasn’t good enough,” Jones said.
“We dominated territory and possession, but we just weren’t good enough at converting that pressure into points.
“To do that, we need to be a bit more aggressive and assertive in the way that we attack. I’ve got no doubt that we will do that against Japan.
“I want the anger to be under control, obviously. We know Japan always have a fast start – they always want to come out in the first 20 minutes, score early and set the tempo of the game – and we have to meet fire with fire early.”
Manu Tuilagi’s availability against Japan has yet to be confirmed after he limped off against Argentina because of a blister and Jones confirmed Jamie George is contention after recovering from a foot injury.
Raffi Quirke and Henry Arundell will play no part in the series, however, because of respective wrist and ankle injuries.