Farrell has 50-50 chance of facing Azzurri
February 28, 2013
England could be without Owen Farrell for the Italy match © PA Photos
England coach Stuart Lancaster has conceded that Owen Farrell only has a 50-50 chance of being fit in time to play Italy on March 10.
Farrell limped off with a thigh strain in the second half of last weekend's 23-13 victory over France and faces a race against time to be fit for the penultimate hurdle of his team's Grand Slam quest. Lancaster said: "Owen is making good progress and he's 50-50 for the Italy game. In the next week he'll be running, but the problem will be kicking. If there's a doubt we won't risk it."
Toby Flood has been retained by England this week instead of being released for his club Leicester's match with Sale on Saturday. Flood has only played 32 minutes of rugby for England during their three Six Nations matches but he could be handed the No.10 jersey for the Italy clash.
England name their team for the match on March 7 and Lancaster is adamant that they will not rush Farrell back into action. "We have to make sure that the injury has healed properly so that it doesn't break down again through kicking," Lancaster said. "Being a fly-half, that's obviously an important part of the job. We'll have to wait and see how that settles down towards the second half of the week.
"You have to let the injury settle to a point where he's beyond fit enough to run. Running around is fine, but what you don't want to do is return to kicking too early and return the injury to its current state. There will have to be a staged progression in his kicking, which will go gently upwards.
"There's no such thing as breaking yourself in as a fly-half, you're either fit or not. We meet on Monday night, we train on Tuesday and Wednesday. We have Thursday off and announce the team on Friday. We'll give him time, but equally there comes a point in a week when we run combinations. Toby Flood trained really well today and is a good player for us, so I'm not worried in that regard."
With England sweating on Farrell's fitness, Lancaster will be keeping a close eye on how Freddie Burns does for Gloucester against Bath on Friday evening. The young fly-half has missed the last six weeks due to injury but if Farrell fails to recover in time for their match with the Azzurri, then Burns could find himself back in the international mix.
"It's great that Freddy's fit now. Hopefully he should be good to go, but it will be his first game back in six weeks," Lancaster said. "From our point of view we need to look at his performance. We have other options on the bench who can cover 10."
Lancaster also revealed that Wasps back row Billy Vunipola should be available against Italy, while Ben Morgan is expected to return against Wales on March 16. Both have been suffering from ankle injuries.
The England coach has also spoken out about the team's need to keep cool when provoked by the opposition. Farrell and Chris Ashton came in for some criticism after their win over France due to a couple of off-the-ball incidents and Lancaster has emphasised to the squad that they need to keep their composure.
"I've spoken to the group generally to make sure that we stay focused on the task in hand," Lancaster said. "Upon review of the game, we definitely got involved in one or two incidents that we didn't need to. We spoke about that as a group. As an opposition coach and team you've got to do everything in your power to upset and try to niggle the opposition.
"You have to be able to deal with that, keep your focus and deal with the task in hand, letting your rugby do the talking. It's not a big issue, I don't think we have a big fundamental disciplinary issue at all. In the context of the game, we were challenged by a very, very good French side and were delighted to come out on top."
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