George Ford ‘fit and ready’ to feature in England’s Six Nations finale
George Ford is in contention to make his England comeback in Dublin on Saturday but Ollie Chessum has been ruled out of the quest to gatecrash Ireland’s Grand Slam party.
Ford has been declared “fit and ready” by defence coach Kevin Sinfield as he engages in a three-way shoot-out with Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell for the fly-half duties against the world’s top ranked side.
All three enter Thursday’s team announcement with the aim of retaining the number 10 jersey currently held by Smith having been retained in a reduced 30-man training squad.
Ford won the last of his 81 caps in last year’s Six Nations before falling out of favour under Eddie Jones and then sustaining a serious Achilles injury.
However, he is now four games into his return for Sale and could form part of a reshaped midfield as Steve Borthwick considers his response to the record 53-10 defeat by France at Twickenham on Saturday.
In a blow to hopes of atoning for the seven-try rout – the nation’s biggest loss in the Championship’s 141-year history – Chessum has been ruled out of the Aviva Stadium showdown.
Chessum sustained an ankle injury in training on Tuesday and while no time frame has been given for his return, he will definitely sit out the climax to the Six Nations on St Patrick’s weekend.
The 22-year-old nine-cap international has overshadowed more established second row partner Maro Itoje throughout the tournament on account of his work rate and impact across the field.
But his breakthrough Six Nations is over – a significant setback for England, who will now choose between David Ribbans, Nick Isiekwe, George Martin and Jonny Hill for his replacement.
“Ollie will be a huge loss. He’s been great for us. We’ve played him in the second row but he covers back row for us as well,” defence coach Kevin Sinfield said.
Chessum is the second starter from the France debacle to miss out against the world’s number one ranked team after centre Ollie Lawrence was struck down by hamstring damage.
Manu Tuilagi has completed a three-week suspension for dangerous play and is a direct replacement for the hard-running Lawrence, with Sinfield all but confirming he will be in action against Ireland.
“Manu has been great in camp. We are disappointed to lose Ollie because he played really well for us but Manu has been outstanding and deserves a shot this weekend,” Sinfield said.
“He brings some physicality to us and we needed a bit more of that against France but we didn’t get it. Hopefully he will provide some of that.”
The challenge facing Borthwick is deciding whether to give the starting XV who collapsed before France – minus the injured Chessum and Lawrence – another chance or to make changes.
“It’s about getting the balance right between giving those guys another shot but also making sure that the selection is right for the opposition we’re playing against, which is what we’ve tried to do during the campaign,” Sinfield said.
England have been reeling from their capitulation against France but must regroup quickly because Ireland in Dublin is currently the game’s toughest assignment.
“The tough times leave a huge mark and you don’t forget because there’s pain with them. Good memories are gone like that,” Sinfield said.
“Handling it is really important. People deal with it very differently – it’s almost a form of grief but we’ve worked through it.
“We’ve had two good sessions and we look forward to what is an enormous game against the best team in the world.
“If you wanted a test and a challenge to find out what character we’ve got, we’ll find out.”