By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – England captain Owen Farrell said on Wednesday he is recovering well from hand surgery and fully expects to be fit to face Ireland in the team’s opening Six Nations game against the champions on Feb. 2.
“The hand is good. I had something small done to it on the weekend,” Farrell said at the tournament launch in London following an operation to repair a thumb tendon.
“I should be training towards the end of this week. It was a gradual thing and is something small,” added the 27-year-old, who is expected to start at flyhalf in Dublin.
When asked if he expected to play against Ireland, Farrell said: “I’m confident, yes.”
Farrell, sole captain in the absence of injured hooker Dylan Hartley, was also dismissive of any questioning of his tackling technique.
There was controversy generated by what some observers – though crucially not the match officials – considered to be two “no-arms” tackles made by Farrell at key moments of the games against South Africa and Australia in November.
“My job is to tackle within the laws, never tried to do otherwise, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on,” he said, with a steely glare that did not invite further discussion.
Coach Eddie Jones said he had very few injury concerns – in contrast to the November series when he was forced to try a number of new combinations.
“I’m confident Owen’s going to play and we’ve got George (Ford) there so we’re well stocked for number 10s at the moment,” he said.
“The one thing consistent about international rugby is the inconsistency of your squad. You work out how you’re going to play, who’s going to play and then you take it from there.
“Obviously it’s great to have blokes like Billy and Mako (Vunipola), Joe Launchbury and Ellis Genge back, they’re great players, but those who played in the autumn did a fantastic job.
“We are flying out to Portugal today – there are a couple a little bit sore from the weekend, but probably got 34 of the 36 who could train today if they needed to.”
After an encouraging November series when England beat South Africa, Japan and Australia and narrowly lost to New Zealand, Jones will expect to carry that improvement into the Six Nations following last year’s dire showing when they finished fifth.
“The only acceptable thing for us is to beat Ireland,” Jones said.
“Obviously the World Cup is there and everyone thinks about it but it’s nine months away and we can’t do things now that are going to make us better other than continue to build the depth of the squad and be 100 percent committed.”
As always, Jones refused to contemplate what the Dublin clash might mean in terms of the championship, wheeling out his mantra that the next game is always the most important one.
He did acknowledge, however, what a stiff examination it would be against last year’s grand slam winners, who also had an impressive end to the year with a clean sweep of victories, including against New Zealand.
“There are two contests against Ireland, one in the air and one on the ground, and you have to win both of those to win the game,” he said.
“Ireland are continually evolving their game. The number of passes they made in the autumn tests increased significantly and they decreased their kicking. But the Six Nations is a different beast, so we’ll wait and see.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge)