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England look to Lawes for a lead against Wales after Tuilagi blow

England look to Lawes for a lead against Wales after Tuilagi blow

RUGBY: England hope the return of captain Courtney Lawes will still give an “edge to the team” in a Six Nations clash with champions Wales after Manu Tuilagi was dramatically sidelined from today’s match at Twickenham (Feb 26).

Rugby
By AFP

Saturday 26 February 2022, 12:15PM


Courtney Lawes will captain England against Wales at Twickenham today (Feb 26). Photo: AFP

Courtney Lawes will captain England against Wales at Twickenham today (Feb 26). Photo: AFP

Tuilagi was recalled to the starting XV named by England coach Eddie Jones on Thursday only for the powerhouse centre to be ruled out of a fixture pivotal to the team’s title hopes hours later by what officials said was a “low grade hamstring injury”.

Harlequins’ Joe Marchant was called up to train with England yesterday.

Such has been the disruption caused by the 46-times capped Tuilagi’s latest setback in an injury-blighted career - he has missed 79 Tests since making his England debut 11 years ago - that Jones now intends to name his revised team today, the day of the game.

Jones said when announcing his original match-day 23 the inclusion of Lawes and Tuilagi meant England had added an “edge to the team”.

But one consolation for the veteran Australian coach is that Lawes remains available as both skipper and blindside flanker after sitting out England’s opening two matches this Six Nations - a 20-17 loss to Scotland and 33-0 rout of perennial strugglers Italy - with concussion.

“Courtney is a great ball-carrier and destructive defender,” said Jones, who had appointed Lawes’ fellow back-row forward Tom Curry as stand-in skipper.

“He (Lawes) has good skills around the players. When he speaks they listen, he leads by example.”

Jones, however, was “not that impressed” by Lawes, when he took charge of England after their first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup - a tournament where they were beaten by Wales at Twickenham.

“His attitude was very laid back, he had a lot of injuries, he didn’t train much,” said Jones. “He had to come up to the standards of what we require in the team and he has done that brilliantly.

“I could not fault his dedication and his discipline now.”

Lawes, who turned 33 on Wednesday, insisted he was now fully fit.

“I knew I just had to take my time,” said Lawes, capped 90 times by England. “I’ve been able to train and work hard whilst doing rehab for this so I am feeling good again.”

Sharp Randall’

Veteran scrum-half Ben Youngs will now only win an England men’s record 115th cap if he comes off the bench after Jones kept faith with Harry Randall following a fine showing in Rome.

“We want to put some pace in the game early” said Jones. “He (Randall) is sharp around the ruck, gives us that instinctiveness with his ability to take quick taps and run quickly.

“And then we have Ben Youngs to finish the game. Imagine having a half-back with 114 caps in the best form of his career coming on to manage that last 20 minutes.”

Fit-again Wales No 8 Taulupe Faletau is set to make his first appearance for the visitors in 11 months following an ankle injury.

“One of the big challenges we’ve talked about during the week is being able to compete with the English pack,” said Wales coach Wayne Pivac.

“It is a big pack, and it’s making sure we are disciplined and don’t give them too many inroads with their line-out, and obviously they’ve got a pretty good scrum.”

Wales have not beaten England in the Six Nations at Twickenham since 2012 and they too need a win to maintain their title hopes.

Today’s clash will be England’s first home game this Six Nations, with a capacity 80,000 crowd free of COVID-19 restrictions expected at Twickenham.

Whatever the outcome, it will represent a landmark occasion for English side Northampton, the club of both Lawes and Wales captain Dan Biggar, each a British and Irish Lion.

Art-Tec Design

The Saints are only the fourth team in Five/Six Nations history to provide both skippers for the same match.

“It is a very proud moment for the club in terms of us both captaining in a huge game on Saturday,” said fly-half Biggar.

Grand Slam-chasing France confront Scotland hoodoo

Meanwhile, unbeaten France head to Murrayfield with an underdog mentality and a point to prove against bogey-side Scotland today as they continue their bid for a Six Nations Championship clean sweep.

Fabien Galthie’s in-form team are two-fifths of the way towards a first title and Grand Slam since 2010, after home wins against Italy (37-10) and Ireland (30-24).

Nevertheless, they are wary of a Scotland side who have beaten them in their last two Six Nations encounters - and who will be seeking their first hat-trick of victories against France in the Championship for 64 years.

“We’re going there with an underdog mentality and with a point to prove,” said France’s English-born defence coach Shaun Edwards, who has played a key role in moulding Les Bleus into a potentially world-beating force, 18 months out from a home World Cup.

“Scotland are the only side we haven’t beaten in the Six Nations since Fabien and I took over. They’ve got the better of us on the last two occasions,” he added.

Overcoming an outstanding Ireland side in Paris two weeks ago showed that France have maintained the momentum of their stunning 40-25 success against New Zealand at the Stade de France in November.

They arrive in Edinburgh as the only unbeaten nation left in the 2022 Six Nations and on a run of five straight victories in all competitions.

Scotland followed their stirring 20-17 home win against England with an abject performance in a 20-17 defeat by Wales in Cardiff.

Gregor Townsend’s side, however, dashed France’s Grand Slam hopes at Murrayfield in 2020, winning 28-17 after French prop Mohamed Haouas was sent off for punching Jamie Ritchie, and ended Les Bleus’ 2021 title challenge with a dramatic 27-23 win in Paris, wing Duhan van der Merwe clinching victory with an 85th minute try.

France did win an Autumn Nations Cup fixture 22-15 against a weakened Scotland team at an empty Murrayfield in November 2020 and they have yet to lose three successive Championship matches in a row to the Scots in the Six Nations era.

Problems’

Their last hat-trick of defeats to the Dark Blues dates back to the era of the Five Nations, in 1958.

“Scotland are a team that pose problems for us and we are aware of the level we will need to be at this time,” said Galthie, who has kept changes to a minimum.

Jonathan Danty returns after an ankle injury to partner Gael Fickou in the centres, with Yoram Moefana moving out to the left wing to fill the place of Gabin Villiere, who has a fractured sinus.

Scotland coach Townsend, who played in France for Brive, Castres and Montpellier, has made three changes of personnel and a positional switch, all in the pack.

Glasgow’s Rory Darge, capped coming off the bench against Wales, makes his first start at openside flanker in place of the injured Jamie Ritchie.

Magnus Bradbury comes in at No 8 and Zander Fagerson at tighthead prop. Sam Skinner moves from the back row to replace the injured Jonny Gray at lock.

Townsend described France as “one of the top two or three teams in the world” and urged his team to improve on a below-par showing in Wales.

“We’ve got to be better,” the former Scotland fly-half said. “We know that the rugby we play, and aim to play, puts a lot of teams under pressure.”

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