England vs Tonga: Marcus Smith doubtful for Autumn Nations Series opener but Eddie Jones ‘cautiously optimistic’

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 (PA)
(PA)

England coach Eddie Jones has revealed that Marcus Smith is a doubt for the Autumn Nations Series opener against Tonga at Twickenham on Saturday, while three players in his back division have already been ruled out.

Max Malins and the uncapped scrum-half Raffi Quirke will not be fit to face Tonga having come into England’s camp last week with injuries, while Louis Lynagh is also unavailable. He was called up on Sunday after Quins’ loss to Saracens but was “a bit beaten up”, according to Jones.

Smith, who made his debut for England in the summer and was then called up by the Lions, will be given until 48 hours before the game to prove his fitness but has not been able to train a great deal this week. Jones said he was “cautiously optimistic”.

“He hasn't done much this week, just a bit of ball handling,” said Jones. “We're being conservative with him but we're cautiously optimistic that he'll be right to play.

“We are keen for him to be involved in the game. It’s not frustrating, it’s part and parcel of preparing a team, players pick up small knocks, and he’ll recover well. If we don’t get to see him this week we will get to see him next week.”

Smith and full-back Freddie Steward, who also debuted in the summer, are doubts for the game. England will issue a formal squad update on Tuesday evening.

With Steward and Malins in doubt, George Furbank looks likely to start at full-back and provide cover for Owen Farrell at fly-half. With Quirke and Harry Randall ruled out, Northampton’s Alex Mitchell is in line for a debut at scrum-half.

Jones said the group was excited for the campaign to begin.

“We had a good positive camp in Jersey,” he said. “It’s quite an interesting squad. We have 14 players from the 2019 WC squad, and obviously 17, 18, 19 players who are all under 10 caps.

“So we have got quite an experienced group and then there’s this young breed of what’s going to be new England. The excitement of putting those two groups together is high.

“We tried to do a lot of things in Jersey to get them to share experiences, which they did well. Now the training has been of a really high standard.”

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