Eddie Jones has taken the decision not to risk young full-back George Furbank due to a long-standing groin injury that he has been hindered by for “many a year”, but the Northampton Saints youngster will still remain with the England squad as emergency cover after Ollie Thorley was released to Gloucester.
The bizarre scenario will see Furbank stick with the 23 named for Sunday’s Six Nations clash with Ireland despite Jones admitting that he is not fit to feature this week, raising suspicions that the inexperienced full-back is being kept out of the firing line against a side going for the Grand Slam and the form side of the tournament so far.
No sooner had Furbank been ruled out of the Twickenham encounter than news emerged of Thorley’s inclusion in Gloucester’s starting line-up to face Sale Sharks this Saturday, meaning the wing will be unavailable for England’s match the following day.
“He is just not quite right,” Jones said of Furbank, who only made his debut three weeks ago in the defeat against France and struggled under the high ball. “Rather than risk him – he couldn’t train yesterday – we felt like we were better off resting him this week.
“He has a long term groin and hip issue that’s he had for many a year, and just needed to give it some time.”
Furbank will stick with the squad this weekend alongside Bath forwards Beno Obano and Tom Dunn, but the non-selected Lewis Ludlam has also been sent back to his club after being named on the bench for Northampton. It means that should anything happen to one of the backs in either Saturday's captain's run or Sunday's warm-up, Furbank is likely to be required to step in and possibly play up to 80 minutes, despite carrying an injury.
With a back-line reshuffle taking place, head coach Jones has put his full faith in Elliot Daly and Jonathan Joseph to cope with the aerial bombardment heading for England, with Ireland’s Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton renowned for their tactical kicking gameplan.
With Anthony Watson already unavailable due to a calf issue, Daly has been moved back to full-back to cover for Furbank’s absence, which has resulted in Jones shifting natural centre Joseph onto the wing to accommodate the fit again Manu Tuilagi – though despite the latter winning his 50th cap this weekend he has never started on the wing for England before – while Henry Slade returns from injury to take his place on the bench.
“Elliot has played a lot of Test football at 15, so he welcomes the opportunity before him,” Jones said. “And JJ (Joseph) has played on the wing for us before.
“He could play 12, 13 or on the wings. We used him on the wings during the World Cup, he’s a versatile player, a great defender in space and he’s got good jumping skills.
“We’ve had a really good preparation, a little bit edgy on Tuesday and Wednesday, but yesterday we had a really good run, probably our best training session of the Six Nations.
“We are really happy with the team. Good strong team, good forward pack, good backs, and it’s great to have Manu and Sladey back in the 23. They are both quality players. They have proven that over the last couple of seasons, so having those two back is a really good bonus for us.”
The three other changes that Jones has elected to make sees Joe Marler replace the absent Mako Vunipola, who has travelled to Tonga for family reasons, with Courtney Lawes replacing Lewis Ludlam at blindside flanker and Ben Youngs returning at scrum-half.