Eddie Jones banks on Owen Farrell as captain despite lack of gametime

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA</span>
Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA
  • Barbeary and Bailey among six uncapped players in squad

  • Tuilagi, Ford, Daly and Underhill left out but Nowell returns

Eddie Jones has insisted Owen Farrell, who has been sidelined for the last two months through injury, is the right man to captain England in the Six Nations despite omitting a number of senior players due to fitness concerns.

Farrell was in a similar position a year ago before England’s dismal Six Nations campaign but in seemingly making an exception for his captain – with Manu Tuilagi, Elliot Daly and Sam Underhill all left out and encouraged to get more gametime with their clubs – Jones is adamant he is not repeating previous mistakes.

Jones’s 36-man squad features six uncapped players, including the Wasps back-row Alfie Barbeary, but there is still no place for George Ford nor Mako and Billy Vunipola. Farrell retakes the captaincy from Courtney Lawes and Jones said he will start England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland on 5 February provided he proves his fitness. He is due to make his comeback for Saracens on Sunday, having undergone ankle surgery on the injury he picked up in England’s November win over Australia.

Related: The Breakdown | Maro Itoje: ‘My expectation is whenever England take the field we should win’

Explaining the apparent contradiction between Farrell, who has made five appearances for club and country this season, and other players short on gametime, Jones said: “Every player is treated differently. That’s the rationale. We just make a judgment on each player. Selection comes down to a judgment, we believe Owen can get in his best form very quickly and we believe he’ll be right to play against Scotland but we’ll just have to wait and see how he goes over the next couple of weeks. He is the best person to captain the team. Very clearly, he is the best person in my judgment to captain the team and, if he is fit and eligible, for selection he will captain the team. If he’s not, then we will make an adjustment to that.”

Twelve months ago Farrell came into the Six Nations undercooked, was below-par against Scotland in England’s opening match and struggled for form throughout the competition as Jones’s side limped to a fifth-place finish. At the start of this season Jones conceded Farrell had “not been at his best for a period of time” and blamed the fact his captain didn’t get enough “high-quality games” before last year’s Six Nations. The review into England’s performance made a similar point without referencing Farrell by name but Jones does not believe history is about to repeat itself, saying: “We will make sure we are not like that.”

Nonetheless, Jones’s decision to name Farrell as his captain at this stage, all the while waiting to make a call on who will act as vice-captains, is a considerable show of faith by the head coach. Lawes was a vastly popular – not to mention successful – stand-in but Jones added: “[Farrell] has the respect of the team, he’s a winner, he drives the competitive spirit of the team and he’s the right man to lead the team.”

With Tuilagi set to miss at least the Scotland match, Farrell would appear primed to come back into the side at inside-centre with Marcus Smith continuing at fly-half and Henry Slade in the No 13 jersey. Against the Springboks, however, a midfield of Smith, Slade and Joe Marchant shone after Tuilagi’s early injury-enforced departure. “[Owen] is going to be an important player for Marcus,” said Jones. “Marcus could be an absolutely brilliant 10, so he needs to have a 12 next him who can run the game for him. And that’s where Owen’s so good.”

Tuilagi had been pencilled in for his Sale comeback against Leicester on 30 January and, while his club still believe he is on course for that fixture, or the following week against Harlequins, Jones cast doubt over whether he would play at all in the competition. Asked if Tuilagi will feature during the Six Nations, Jones said: “We’ll just have to wait and see where he’s up to. He’ll need to get some good training form, he’ll need to play a few games. If we were 100% optimistic, we would say ‘yes’; if we were realistic, it’s probably a 50-50.”

England squad Forwards A Barbeary, J Blamire, O Chessum, L Cowan-Dickie, T Curry, A Dombrandt, C Ewels, E Genge, J George, J Heyes, J Hill, M Itoje, C Lawes, L Ludlam, J Marler, B Rodd, S Simmonds, K Sinckler, W Stuart.

Backs M Atkinson, O Bailey, O Farrell (capt), T Freeman, G Furbank, O Hassell-Collins, M Malins, J Marchant, J May, L Northmore, J Nowell, R Quirke, H Randall, H Slade, M Smith, F Steward, B Youngs

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