Eddie Jones issued a stark warning to Scotland today, insisting that Owen Farrell has fully recovered from his leg injury and is now “ fitter and faster” than he has ever been heading into the Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield.
Farrell picked up his injury in the win over Wales and has been given his own training programme to ensure the problem does not recur against the Scots who know how important the Lions centre has become to the reigning Six Nations champions. Jones did not overplay Farrell in the November tests, recognising that after helping the Lions draw the test series with New Zealand, England only truly World class player needed special treatment.
News of Farrell’s injury would have been a boost to the Scots but Jones is a master of the psychological games played in the build up to big matches and said: “Owen has been in good form and after resting him in the November tests to a great extent, we are getting some of those dividends now. He is fitter and faster than he has ever been, great understanding of the game and has a magnificent competitive desire.”
Jones knows that Farrell is not only the team’s main source of points through his brilliant kicking, he also organises the defence and helps outside half George Ford weave the attacking patterns that he believes can expose the Scots again. Last season, England destroyed Scotland 61-21 at Twickenham and the selection of Jonathan Joseph alongside Farrell in the mid-field is highly significant. Joseph scored a hat-trick against the Scots in that game and Jones has thrown down the attacking gauntlet to opposite number Gregor Townsend.
Jones could have gone with Ben Te’o but believes the ball handling of Ford and Farrell can create the holes in the Scotland defence for Joseph to exploit. Joseph respects the Scots attack in which centre Huw Jones has been so impressive and said: “It is an exciting challenge for us to shut their time and space down defensively. We are up for the challenge and there is a real buzz around our camp and we are very determined to get a victory up there.
“I have played against a lot of big players in my time and Huw went to my school and was a couple of years below me. He is great player and it’s a case of us working together defensively and dominate them.
“Wherever we play will be a tough challenge for us and the crowd will be on our backs but we are used to that and thrive off it. We are confident and it’s not solely down to the result a year ago at Twickenham and both teams have developed since then. We take confidence out of what we have done as a team in the last year and keep pushing the boundaries.
“The competition with Ben (Te’o) is good and we probably offer different things and the rivalry is healthy – we are friends off the field. We are very lucky to have a lot of talent to pick from and Nathan is a big unit for us to be able to bring in.”
Jones, who has won 24 of his 25 England matches in charge, has revealed that Exeter No8 Sam Simmonds is likely to miss the rest of the championship due to the shoulder injury he suffered in the win over Wales. That makes the return to fitness of Hughes even more important as he added significant ball carrying power to a pack that will be bigger and heavier than the Scots eight. Jones is also keen to remind the Scots that his players came through two days of scrum practise against the heavyweight Georgian pack last week as they attempt to become the No1 scrum in the sport.
Jones added:“Nathan has come back in and I have never seen him in better shape and it looks like we will be without Sam Simmonds for the rest of the championship with his shoulder injury. It is timely that Nathan is back and he has worked hard on his fitness. I have never seen him in better physical condition so we are looking forward to him playing. Nathan has a key role in defence and in us gaining momentum in attack. The fallow week means we have time to regenerate the players and understand how we can play against Scotland we feel the preparation has been very good and were delighted with the two days scrum practise with Georgia.”
Wasps Joe Launchbury wins his 50th cap on Saturday which is an even more remarkable achievement given he was released by Harlequins from their academy as he was deemed unlikely to make the grade with them. Before he joined Wasps, Launchbury was stacking supermarket shelves where his height was a major asset. Now, Launchbury has joined the elite half century club and is playing some of the best rugby of his career having improved his line out work to convince Jones he deserved a starting place.