Uncapped Ollie Lawrence could start for England in Six Nations clash

Ollie Lawrence could make his England debut in Six Nations decider against Italy as a reward for dominant Worcester Warriors displays

  • Fellow centre Manu Tuilagi is out until spring next year with a torn achilles
  • Captain Owen Farrell could play for the first time since his red card last month
  • Jacob Umaga could make his England bow if Farrell does not start on Saturday

Ollie Lawrence has emerged as a rookie candidate to start for England in their Six Nations decider against Italy in Rome on Saturday, as Eddie Jones ponders a major midfield overhaul.

The 21-year-old Worcester centre appears to be in contention to make his Test debut at the Stadio Olimpico, in the absence of two stalwarts of the back line.

Jones confirmed yesterday that fly-half George Ford will not be available as he recovers from an achilles injury, while Manu Tuilagi is out for months after suffering a tear to the same part of his leg.

Ollie Lawrence is in contention to make his England debut against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico

For so long, England’s 10-12-13 axis was in a permanent state of flux, but the endless rotations in that area had given way to a period of stability.

In the national team’s last 10 Tests, Ford, captain Owen Farrell and Tuilagi had started together eight times. 

But now Jones is gearing up to make enforced changes for a match which England need to win with a bonus point to have any chance of claiming the championship title.

Youngster Lawrence has repeatedly demonstrated explosive power while catching the eye with Worcester and now appears to be regarded as someone who could deputise for Tuilagi as a destructive carrier who can off-load.

Judging by Jones’ comments yesterday, after naming a 36-man squad, the newcomer may even be in his thoughts for a starting role at inside centre on the basis that Farrell is likely to revert to fly-half in the absence of Ford.

He described Lawrence as a ‘player of great potential’ and when asked which centre position he regards as a natural fit for him, Jones said: ‘We were having a selection debate about the need for a passing 12. 

George Ford and Manu Tuilagi are England’s biggest absentees as they to win the Six Nations

‘I’d been watching a game that involved Jimmy Gopperth — a 10 who plays 12. So I asked our analyst to go away and look at how many times Jimmy passed to Malakai Fekitoa. It was zero. Very rarely do you see the passing sequence 10 to 12 to 13.

‘The romantics want to see that. I’ve come from a background where we would normally play a 10 at 12 and I would still like to have that in the team. But the notion that 12 passes to 13 is very rarely seen.

‘Watch the next game and see how many times it happens.

Captain Owen Farrell is likely to take to the field since his sending-off last month for Saracens

‘Basically centres, particularly with rush defence, are now running players — running backs. Their opportunity to pass is very rare but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be good passers.

‘If you pass the ball three times now, generally speaking you are going to have the defence on top of you. The ability to get a fourth pass in is very difficult. 

‘You’ll see that most rugby, now, is one-pass rugby. You’ve only got 20 per cent for two or three passes. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out it doesn’t happen very often.

Joe Cokanasiga could also face the Italians after spending 11 months out with a knee injury

‘We’ll have to juggle things around and play slightly differently. We want to make sure we stay ahead of the game and we are trying to think of ways we can break down rush defences.’

If Jones is weighing up a power runner at 12, Lawrence would fit the bill — although it depends in part on the make-up of England’s back row and whether the recalled Joe Cokanasiga, Bath’s giant, Fiji-born wing, might be unleashed out wide.

The man in charge knows he needs enough carriers who can bust through the gainline and, without Tuilagi, he has a deficit in that regard.

Jacob Umaga is another new boy who has been rewarded after a strong Premiership season

There was some speculation yesterday that Wasps’ young playmaker Jacob Umaga could be pitched in to start at 10. But far more likely is that Farrell lines up there for his first appearance since being banned for a high tackle early last month.

The skipper may be short of game-time but Jones is not fazed in the slightest, saying: ‘He is the most professional player I have seen.

‘He is dedicated to his profession and works hard. I don’t know how many times Jonny Wilkinson has been in to do kicking with him. He is a guy that has this unbelievable desire to win.

Jones has earmarked Northampton’s George Furbank as a future No 10 replacement for Farrell 

‘He wants to play for England, he wants to be the best captain we have had and he wants to be the best 10 we have had, or best 12. Wherever he gets selected, he doesn’t mind.’

Jones was in trademark form yesterday — bluntly refusing to explain the omission of influential Exeter brothers Sam and Joe Simmonds while claiming that he sees struggling Northampton full back George Furbank as a potential Test No 10.

Predictably, he sought to play down the hype around Wasps flanker Jack Willis by arguing that he has much to prove in England training before he can be considered for a debut. That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t happen, though.




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