Eddie Jones is hopeful of unleashing Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes against Wales when England’s Six Nations campaign resumes on Saturday week with the head coach optimistic of welcoming back a number of senior players from injury.
Tuilagi continued his comeback on Saturday for Sale and was among their try-scorers against Worcester on his first start since a hamstring injury. Jones was due to speak to the 30-year-old centre as well as the Sale director of rugby, Alex Sanderson, on Tuesday before finalising a training squad for the first fallow week of the competition but he acknowledged Tuilagi would be a significant addition as his side seek to make up for last year’s 40-24 defeat in Cardiff.
Lawes has been sidelined with a head injury suffered in mid-January as he progresses through the return to play protocols. He has been restricted to running and weight training but Jones is hopeful he will be back in full contact training by the end of the week. Lawes led England with distinction against Tonga and South Africa in the autumn in the absence of Owen Farrell and though Tom Curry fulfilled the role against Scotland and Italy, the expectation is that the Northampton forward would resume the captaincy.
Joe Launchbury, who was briefly called into camp last week after two matches for Wasps after a lengthy layoff with a knee injury, is set to come into contention to face Wales, along with Lewis Ludlam, who started against Scotland but suffered a rib injury which ruled him out of Sunday’s 33-0 win over Italy.
Asked which players Jones hoped to have available again, Jones said: “Potentially Launchbury, Tuilagi, Lawes, Ludlam, I’ll have a chat to Alex and Manu and see where they’re at and whether he’s got enough petrol in the tank to make the step up. We’ll assess it from there. Just having a power-running centre would give us a different option.
“Everything we’re doing now is about trying to create opportunities through finesse and that’s through good running lines and passing. But to have someone who can take you forward quickly and engage two or three defenders then allows you try and finesse in extra space, which would be really useful to us.
“We’d be hopeful that by the end of [the] week [Courtney] will be training fully. He’s making some great progress and the medical staff have done some terrific work with him. He’s not far away now and we’re really hopeful he’ll be back in full training and able to play against Wales.”
Last year against Wales, England felt wronged after a controversial Josh Adams try came from a quickly taken penalty by Dan Biggar and a Liam Williams score that featured a questionable knock-on decision in the buildup. Jones said: “I don’t even remember that game. To me, that game was a Rassie Erasmus video game because we got two difficult decisions against us early that were apologised for by World Rugby for being incorrect, but that doesn’t get you a result back. I don’t think there is anything to learn from bad refereeing.”
Wales got their campaign back on track with a hard-fought win over Scotland, having been resoundingly beaten by Ireland. “They were outstanding [against Scotland]. They hung in the game,” said Jones. “It was a game they shouldn’t have won. It was a great attritional performance. They’re Six Nations champions aren’t they? They’re not going to throw away their mantle easily. Biggar at 10 is obviously enjoying the captaincy. He’s got a bit of theatre about him, which is good for the game.”
Meanwhile, Ellis Genge has revealed how he came to the rescue of Italy’s Sebastian Negri after the Zimbabwe-born forward appeared to have been knocked unconscious in a collision with England’s Nick Isiekwe. Genge spotted what had happened to Negri, alerted the medics and put him into the recovery position. Negri has since tweeted his gratitude to Genge for his quick-thinking.
“I heard him choking so I gave him a slap to see if he reacted,” said Genge. “He just carried on choking so I didn’t know if he had swallowed his tongue – that’s why I tried to roll him on to his side. I’m not a master in medicine but I’m pretty sure you are supposed to put them in the recovery position so I tried to do that. I was quickly ushered away by the medics so I let them just carry on.
“It’s horrible when that happens. When you are on the pitch you think rugby is the be-all and end-all but you are definitely brought back down to earth quickly and realise reality when something like that happens.”
After the defeat in Cardiff last year, Genge said that he had received death threats online after footage emerged of him standing motionless rather than clapping Wales back into the dressing room. Addressing England’s next match, Genge said: “There is history there and Wales and England are very patriotic people. You’d be disappointed in a Test match if somewhere in there, there wasn’t a bit of niggle.”