Owen Farrell and Jamie George ruled out of England v South Africa due to injury

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  • Owen Farrell
    English rugby league and rugby union footballer
  • Jamie George
    English rugby union footballer
Owen Farrell of England leaves the pitch after picking up an ankle injury during the Autumn Nations Series match between England and Australia - Getty Images
Owen Farrell of England leaves the pitch after picking up an ankle injury during the Autumn Nations Series match between England and Australia - Getty Images

Captain Owen Farrell has been ruled out of England’s hotly-anticipated match against South Africa with head coach Eddie Jones also facing a major front-row crisis.

In a huge blow to Jones, Farrell suffered an ankle injury in the 32-15 victory against Australia after going off in the 68th minute in clear discomfort.

It proved a costly win for Jones with hooker Jamie George also sustaining a knee injury that will rule him out of the rematch of the 2019 World Cup final.

Both Saracens players will see specialists later this week to determine the exact length of their lay-offs. Courtney Lawes deputised for Farrell as captain when the fly-half missed the 69-3 victory against Tonga as a result of what proved to be a false positive Covid test.

The Northampton back-row forward is likely to resume that role on Saturday with Tom Curry the only other available member of England’s new-look leadership group.

Marcus Smith is also set to continue at fly-half with Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade on course to reprise the centre partnership from the Tonga match.

Even more damaging for Jones than the loss of his captain is the glaring lack of depth up front. Jones is now missing his first-choice hookers in Luke Cowan-Dickie and George.

At loosehead, the situation is equally precarious. Jones’ top two looseheads, Ellis Genge and Joe Marler, both missed the Australia match with positive Covid-19 tests. Genge will remain in isolation for the Springbok clash while Marler will only return to the camp on Friday, meaning he will have just a captain’s run training session to prepare to face the world champions.

Yet again Jones has resisted the temptation to send an SOS to out-of-favour Saracens prop Mako Vunipola. Instead he called up the uncapped Gloucester loosehead Harry Elrington along with hooker Jack Singleton as cover for George.

That decision leaves England looking very exposed. Newcastle’s Jamie Blamire (four caps) is likely start at hooker with the uncapped Nic Dolly or Singleton (three caps) as his back-up. At loosehead, Bevan Rodd, who made his debut against Australia is likely to share the starting and finishing roles with Marler.

By contrast, South Africa hookers Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx possess a combined 90 caps and tightheads Trevor Nyakane and Vincent Koch 81.

Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira told Telegraph Sport that the Springboks will ruthlessly target England’s callow front row. “The person you face as a front rower does have an impact on how you approach the game,” the Beast said.

“If it is a guy who does not have a lot of Tests then you are going to target them. Someone like Mako they will be more cautious, you know you have to be at your best to go forward and get penalties.

“I just think with the way South Africa are scrummaging right now, it will be very hard to stop us. You can’t stop something that is unstoppable.”

This makes Jones’ decision not to recall Vunipola, whom he dropped along with George, George Ford and his brother Billy Vunipola, for the autumn games all the more baffling. Jones subsequently recalled George when Cowan-Dickie was injured but on Saturday night Jones again reiterated that he was not prepared to pick Vunipola however bad his injury crisis.

“As I said post the Lions but we have drawn a bit of a line in the sand and decided to develop the team,” Jones said. “We’ve decided to pick players we think can be outstanding at a World Cup in 2023 and those players who have been in the team and dropped off have an opportunity to go back to their clubs and find their form and find that desire.

“We are seeing signs of that with Billy and Mako at Saracens so we are pleased about that. It is a young team. It is probably one of the youngest teams I have coached at Test level that finished the game. We are looking at developing a squad that will win the World Cup in 2023. We are unabashed about doing that.”

Instead, Jones has opted to call up Elrington, who turns 28 in December and was released in the summer by London Irish, for his “new England” project.

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