England evacuated from hotel due to fire and Marler tests positive for Covid
England’s preparations for the Six Nations were hit with yet more upheaval on Tuesday when Joe Marler tested positive for Covid-19 and Eddie Jones’s squad was later forced to evacuate the team hotel because of a fire.
Marler recorded a second positive test on England duty in the space of two-and-a-half months, raising doubts over his availability for next week’s trip to Scotland. Compounding matters for England, an electrical fire coming from a manhole on Kings Road in Brighton forced Jones’s squad to move hotels.
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Jones was already dealing with the absences of Owen Farrell and Jonny May from this week’s training camp while Courtney Lawes, the favourite to step in as captain, is sidelined with a head injury. Marler’s absence constitutes another sizeable headache for the head coach and the disruption caused by the fire, which broke out at around 6pm, adds an element of farce to England’s training camp. All is said to be “calm and well” within the squad and support staff, however.
Marler was forced to withdraw from the training camp after recording a positive test on Tuesday morning and immediately going into isolation. According to government guidance, Marler will be able to leave isolation early next week if he can produce negative tests on day five and day six. If he has to complete the full 10 days, however, that would take him up to midnight the night before the Murrayfield fixture. In that instance there would be little prospect of him featuring.
All other players and staff tested negative and Jones has opted against calling up a replacement into camp, with Ellis Genge and Bevan Rodd the other looseheads in the squad, but England have been given a sharp reminder of the risks still posed by Covid-19.
Marler missed England’s autumn victory over Australia after testing positive but was able to rejoin the squad the following Friday and take his place on the bench for the 27-26 win over South Africa 24 hours later. On Tuesday night Marler wrote on social media: “Covid can eat shit … But it does mean I can go back to my diet of chillis and onions.”
As was the case in the autumn, England are understood to be well over the 85% target for fully vaccinated players and members of staff.
Even if Marler is available for the trip to Murrayfield, his absence for this week’s training camp means further upheaval for Jones, who this week has been denied more than 300 caps’ worth of experience as he sets about plotting what would be a second win over Scotland in five years.
Furthermore, it demonstrates the threat of Covid still looms large over the tournament. Antoine Dupont, the World Rugby player of year, is among eight players missing from the France squad due to positive Covid-19 tests. That number includes the Castres hooker Gaetan Barlot, who lined up against Marler in his side’s Champions Cup defeat by Harlequins on Friday. In addition, Wales announced on Tuesday that Christ Tshiunza had tested positive.
Meanwhile, May is due to see a specialist this week to determine if he will play any part in the tournament after withdrawing from camp with a knee injury on Monday. The 31-year-old will miss at least the Scotland match and the trip to Italy the following week but the Gloucester head coach, George Skivington, is hopeful he will return before the end of the championship in mid-March. “The hope is that he will still play in the Six Nations,” he said.