England’s launch of their brave new era may have to be delayed after Marcus Smith emerged as one of several injury concerns for Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series opener against Tonga.
Smith, the electric playmaker around whom Eddie Jones’ revolution is to be built, and full-back Freddie Steward are doubts for the Twickenham showdown after receiving treatment for unspecified leg problems.
More definitive is the news over this season’s leading Gallagher Premiership try-scorer Max Malins and scrum-half Raffi Quirke, with the pair ruled out by respective calf and knee issues.
And England’s band of exciting young backs have seen their ranks thinned further after Louis Lynagh became unavailable just two days after arriving into camp as injury cover for Malins.
Eddie Jones revealed that Lynagh was “a bit beaten up” after Harlequins’ defeat by Saracens on Sunday and the wing has returned to his club.
A day of grim injury developments comes 48 hours after Harry Randall withdrew from the squad because of a troublesome hip flexor, making the loss of Quirke even more significant.
Jones dismissed the high number of injuries as “all part and parcel of preparing an international team”, but he will be frustrated they have all been incurred by the exciting rookies who it is hoped will evolve England’s attacking game as building for the World Cup ramps up.
At the heart of the vision for France 2023 is Smith, the fly-half magician who starred during Harlequins’ Premiership title triumph last season, earning him first caps against USA and Canada in July and then a late call-up to the Lions tour.
Jones spoke on Sunday of his desire to pair Smith and Owen Farrell together in a creative axis in the hope they would enable England to attack earlier on in phases and with more aggression, but that prospect now hangs in the balance.
“Marcus hasn’t done much training this week, just a bit of ball handling,” said Jones, who has chosen not to bring in George Ford as emergency fly-half cover.
“We’re being conservative with him but we’re cautiously optimistic that he’ll be right to play.
“We are keen for him to be involved in the game. If we don’t get to see him this week, we will get to see him next week.”
If Smith fails to recover, Farrell will fill in at fly-half with George Furbank the likely full-back if Steward joins Malins on the sidelines. Furbank would also cover 10.
Whatever the side sent out to face Tonga in an autumn series completed by fixtures against Australia and South Africa, they will be playing in front of Twickenham’s first 82,000 full house since March 2020.
“It makes an enormous difference. Fans give you courage at times, they give you stamina at times. They give you excitement at times,” Jones said.
“Sometimes a team needs that little bit extra and I think as we became an older team the influence of the crowd became greater and we probably missed them more than anyone.
“For the younger guys, we have got a different challenge now. A lot of them haven’t played in front of crowds and now they go to Twickenham, which is the biggest rugby crowd in the world.
“Our target is to make sure they don’t do Mexican waves, so we need to play such a good quality of rugby they haven’t got time to do that.
“I was at Murrayfield on Saturday and at the 50-minute mark the Mexican waves were starting to come out. We want to play with that intensity and physicality which keeps the crowd interested.”
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