- Owen Farrell is fighting to get fit for Italy clash after quad strain
- Stuart Lancaster is happy with options of Flood and Burns at No.10
Owen Farrell is rated as 50/50 for the clash with Italy on Sunday, March 10 but Stuart Lancaster is comfortable with the options he has available at fly half.
The Saracens No.10, who has kicked 42 points during England’s three victories in the 2013 RBS 6 Nations, came off during the 23-13 victory over France with a quad strain as he attempted a penalty in the 62nd minute.
Toby Flood, the most experienced player at Lancaster’s disposal with 55 caps, emerged from the bench to slot two match-clinching penalties of his own and is evidently in form, while Freddie Burns, who sparkled on his Test debut against New Zealand in December, starts for Gloucester Rugby in the Aviva Premiership this Saturday after recovering from a knee injury.
Given Farrell’s injury is related to kicking, it must be treated with care and the England Head Coach said: “He hasn’t trained this week but we’re hopeful he might take some part next week.
“The key thing is making sure his quad settles down, he might be fine to run around but we need to recondition him so he can kick because what we don’t want is that we bring him back too early and get a reoccurrence.
“Freddie is back to fitness at the right time but equally it’s tough to go straight in and play, and then play international rugby. But the good thing is that he’s been in camp, he’s been in the reviews and he’s up to speed with the game plan. We know what he can do, but it’s always subject to form and fitness.”
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England’s match day squad will now have three days off before reassembling at Pennyhill Park on Monday evening to prepare for the clash against the Azzurri at Twickenham Stadium.
Lancaster puts much emphasis on the emotional energy associated with representing your country and believes they have struck the right balance between mental relaxation and maintaining physical sharpness in the second fallow week.
“It’s been about giving the players a bit of downtime as a group but also getting them to do some hard work, they worked extremely hard in training this morning,” Lancaster said. “A mental break is important too, it’s a hard push through the Six Nations for everyone to have three days off this weekend will be good.
“It’s massive for the players to be refreshed mentally because we as coaches finish the Six Nations but the players don’t, a lot of them go back into big European quarter finals, playoff games, cup finals – then there’s just a Lions tour and our trip to Argentina at the end of it.”
While, as with much of his meticulous long-term planning, that is an admirable attitude to the welfare of his players but unbeaten England have a huge game in the context of their continued development against Italy.
With that in mind, Lancaster is considering “one or two changes to freshen the side up” but is also aware of the importance of consistency and momentum in selection, allied to his respect for Italy and the Six Nations as a competition.