England’s Six Nations preparations have been rocked by further significant disruption, with Courtney Lawes sidelined due to a head injury and Eddie Jones delaying a decision on who will replace the absent Owen Farrell as captain. In another major blow Jonny May has pulled out of the squad with a knee injury.
Jones was expected to name a new captain on Monday and, while England have confirmed that Farrell will miss their opening match against Scotland at the very least – meaning a recall for George Ford – a replacement skipper will not be named until next week. Lawes was the heavy favourite, having stood in successfully during the autumn, but he is now unable to take part in key preparations at England’s training camp in Brighton this week as he undergoes the head injury return-to-play protocols. It is understood Tom Curry will fulfil media duties at the Six Nations launch this week in his role as one of the side’s vice-captains.
With Farrell due to discover this week if he will feature at any stage of the tournament, Jones has summoned Ford while Elliot Daly comes into the squad for May and Nick Isiekwe is added to the group in Brighton as injury cover for Lawes, who faces a race against time to prove his fitness for the Scotland match.
May will also miss England’s trip to Murrayfield, and potentially the following match against Italy, with England said to be planning for life without him for the early stages of the tournament. His absence is a setback for Jones given the Gloucester wing has started every England match – barring the two developmental matches against the USA and Canada last summer – since the 2019 World Cup. May’s withdrawal means a recall for Daly, who missed the autumn campaign through injury and was left out of the squad last week.
Ford, meanwhile, comes in for Farrell having been dropped last autumn. He has been in exceptional form for Leicester this season but was again omitted from the initial Six Nations squad, only for Farrell’s ankle injury setback to hand him a reprieve. Jones has been impressed by Isiekwe’s form for Saracens this season and he also earns a call-up, having won the last of his three caps in the summer of 2018.
Lawes was left out of the Northampton team to face Racing 92 over the weekend – a fixture that was subsequently cancelled – but Saints were confident that he would be fine for England’s Six Nations campaign.
Nonetheless, his inability to train this week is a problem for Jones given Farrell is absent, and it could develop into a crisis for the head coach if Lawes suffers a setback when progressing through the protocols.