Elliot Daly will miss the start of England’s autumn campaign this weekend as he awaits tests on a leg problem but the head coach, Eddie Jones, has hinted that Leicester’s Ben Youngs will win his 100th cap in Italy next week and could extend his Test career for several more seasons.
Daly, along with the still-injured prop Joe Marler, will not feature against the Barbarians on Sunday and looks an unlikely starter in Rome unless specialists give him the all-clear this week. “Elliot has had a bump on his leg for a good period of time,” Jones said. “We’re not sure what’s wrong so we’re going to get some tests done and we’ll wait and see what the answer is. He will see a consultant and then we’ll have a pretty good idea of where he’s at.”
Youngs, however, is fit and well and Jones seems ready to hand the 31‑year‑old scrum-half the one cap he needs to become the second English player after Jason Leonard to reach a century of Test appearances for his country.
“He’s a fine player,” Jones said. “When you’re on 99 you always want that single, don’t you? We’re conscious of that and we know it’s an important thing for him. He’s come into the camp in really good condition with a sparkle in his eyes. But at the end of the day loyalty to a player is about performance. Ben knows he has to perform. The 100th game is important but the 150th will be more important for him. That’s what he’s striving to do.”
It is also helping Youngs’ chances that no players from Exeter, Wasps or Bristol could be named in a slightly rejigged 32-man squad for the non‑cap Barbarians fixture, which is effectively a warm-up for the Italy game six days later. With Covid restrictions also complicating the business of adding players to the England team “bubble” in Teddington at short notice, possible alternatives such as Dan Robson, Jack Maunder and Harry Randall will have to bide their time a little longer.
“With this [coronavirus] situation you never know whether you’ve got things under control,” Jones said. “All you can do is follow the regulations, follow the instructions and be sensible.”
Jones, however, has been suitably heartened to see two English clubs, Exeter and Bristol, scoop European trophies last weekend and hopes their success will rub off on the national team. “They’re important games because they’re high pressure. It’s always great to see English clubs do well. I was particularly impressed by a number of Exeter players in what was a good quality European cup final. We’ve had that previously with Saracens being a dominant team in Europe and now we’ve got Exeter. Those players come in and they know they’ve been able to beat players from other countries so that adds to the strength of the team.”
When the time comes, Jones is also urging England to raise their game from where it was when the Six Nations was interrupted in March. “Our aim is to be better than that,” said Jones, who revealed Owen Farrell has been doing extra work on his tackle technique since being handed a five‑game ban for a dangerous tackle last month.
“Owen and I have ongoing conversations. There’s not a day where we don’t talk or text each other. He’s aware of his responsibilities as England captain, he made a mistake in a game, we’ve moved on from that and now his job’s to be the best England captain he can be.
“I went to the gym this morning and he was doing some extra [tackle] work with John Clarke. That’s a constant work-on, not only for Owen but a lot of our players. The laws of the high tackle have become increasingly tighter and all of our players are conscious of their responsibility.”
Jones also sounds unfazed by the prospect of big games in an empty, echoing Twickenham, suggesting it might even be helpful from a coaching perspective. “I’ll be able to yell from the grandstand, mate. It’ll be fun. You won’t need the camera or the microphone, you can get it direct from the mouth, although a mask might make it more difficult.”