CHRIS FOY: England's injury crisis paves way for Ellis Genge

CHRIS FOY: England’s injury crisis could pave the way for Ellis Genge to become captain… even if Owen Farrell recovers from his head knock, Eddie Jones should make the Bristol prop his skipper anyway

  • England face injury turmoil ahead of autumn internationals in under a fortnight
  • The injury crisis paves way for Bristol Bears star Ellis Genge to shine for the team
  • Time to embrace showmen after Christian Wade and Danny Cipriani’s comments
  • Bath are becoming more resilient as seen in Saturday’s win over Northampton

England have been plunged into turmoil on the eve of their autumn series, with two captains a doubt for the opener against Argentina — at least — and injuries mounting. But Eddie Jones can find a silver lining around a giant cloud.

Courtney Lawes won’t be in Jersey for the training camp and now Owen Farrell is unlikely to be there either. The Saracens fly-half and skipper was knocked out against Exeter and Sportsmail understands that he won’t be able to fly, which means he will need to go through return-to-play protocols at his club.

London Irish flier Henry Arundell will be assessed on Monday after hobbling off with a foot injury on Friday — in a game which saw Jonny May suffer a suspected elbow dislocation.

Owen Farrell is one of a number of England players doubtful ahead of the autumn series

Henry Arundell will be assessed on Monday after hobbling off with a foot injury on Friday

As if that wasn’t enough, Farrell’s setback at Sandy Park was compounded for Jones by Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie suffering a knee injury. England are already without Jamie George for their Tests against the Pumas, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa, so resources are stretched at the heart of the front row.

But the current state of chaos presents opportunities. Jones will consider a swift recall for Exeter’s playmaker centre, Henry Slade — who was left out of the 36-man training squad — knowing that he could join Marcus Smith and Manu Tuilagi in a potentially devastating midfield alliance. He will also mull over the captaincy and should turn to Ellis Genge.

The Bristol prop has developed into one of the world’s pre-eminent looseheads in the last year. He is as aggressive, explosive and confrontational as ever but he has added layers of late, having demonstrated his leadership prowess as captain of title-winning Leicester last season. England have spoken of the need for a charm offensive with referees and Genge can handle that.

Ellis Genge has developed into one of the world’s pre-eminent looseheads in the last year

Despite the tough persona, he is an instinctive people person with emotional intelligence. Against Argentina, Jones’ side will need to bring passion and a show of force, and Genge can set the tone, just as he did in Australia when his thunderous ball-carrying inspired the comeback series win.

Frankly, even if Farrell recovers from his head knock, Jones should install Genge anyway. Leave Farrell to maintain his fired-up motivator routine away from referees. Leave Maro Itoje to be an individual asset in the pack and let the England No 1 wear the armband. Tom Curry has done it and proved he can step in, so now Jones can assess another back-up.

That looks a decent silver lining.

Time to embrace the showmen

Rugby has to banish its uptight culture and allow more exuberance. It was sad to hear Christian Wade and Danny Cipriani recounting how they were told off for celebrations at the end of a match — by their own head coach.

Usain Bolt carried athletics on his shoulders not just because he was the fastest man ever but also because he was a showman who people wanted to see and imitate.

Christian Wade and Danny Cipriani recounted how they were told off for celebrations

Rugby has characters who could do that too if given the licence. Chris Ashton’s elaborate try-scoring routine became a major talking point when he burst to prominence as wider enjoyment of the ‘Ash Splash’ collided with traditionalist objections to such frivolity.

The establishment is too conservative. Anything beyond a formal handshake is frowned upon. Some think professionalism must involve being stern. Wrong. Joy should be encouraged. So let’s see theatrical routines during the autumn internationals. Those are the images which will be shared on social media and copied by kids.

Use of hi-tech balls can be a smart move 

New balls, please. The Autumn Nations series and the men’s and women’s Six Nations will feature a technological leap forward, with use of smart balls allowing global software company Sage to deliver an avalanche of fascinating in-game data.

Coaches and viewers will be able to access instant information about the speed and length of passes and kicks, hang-time of kicks and the distance to corner flags of touch-finders.

The Autumn Nations series and the men’s and women’s Six Nations will feature a technological leap forward 

These details should elevate the awareness of player skills and create a wider understanding. At a time when rugby needs all the help it can get to improve its box-office appeal, this is a positive development. 

Hopefully, one day, the technology can help rule on forward passes and whether the ball has been grounded for a try. Here’s hoping that unions and clubs can soon start promoting the data on big screens in grounds, and on television.

Patience will pay off for bath 

Bath have been talking about progress and now they have proof of it. Their 27-14 home win against Northampton meant it only took seven Premiership fixtures to get off the mark this season, as opposed to the previous campaign, when their first victory came after 10 defeats.

They are becoming more resilient under Johann van Graan. Hooker and stand-in captain Tom Dunn (right) has been the heartbeat of the revival, Dave Attwood brings clout to the pack and Ollie Lawrence has been a shrewd signing from Worcester.

 There is vast back-line firepower with the likes of Joe Cokanasiga, Ruaridh McConnochie, Jonathan Joseph and Cameron Redpath. When long-term casualties such as Sam Underhill, Charlie Ewels and Beno Obano are fit, Bath have a powerful squad. Maybe some reward for their loyal fans is imminent.

Chris Robshaw has retired from rugby with the heartfelt best wishes of so many in this country and beyond. 

A stand-out memory was when Robshaw led a weakened, thrown-together England team to the brink of victory over the All Blacks at Eden Park in 2014, coming within a few minutes of ending New Zealand’s 20-year winning streak at their Auckland fortress, on a night when Robshaw eclipsed the great Richie McCaw. 

The former Harlequin was not merely a good bloke, he was a fine player too. Good luck to him for whatever comes next.

 Last word

So, apparently, Finn Russell is not one of Scotland’s best three fly-halves and has been left out of Gregor Townsend’s autumn Test squad. Really? The Racing 92 magician has become the victim of rugby’s risk-averse mentality. 

Apparently, he can’t be trusted any longer. But the man is a once-in-a-generation genius who has lit up the Top 14. Russell’s long, laser-guided pass to Huw Jones in the build-up to a try against England at Murrayfield in 2018 was an act of brilliance which went straight into oval-ball folklore. 

Sadly, Townsend has run out of patience, which hints at selection panic. It was looking like a daunting campaign already but without Russell, they have lost a trump card and the Test game will be duller. 

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