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

LONDON (AFP): 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 Saturday’s match at Twickenham.

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 has been called up to train with England on Friday.

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 on Saturday, 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 on Saturday 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.

Saturday’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.

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.