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England captain Owen Farrell tests positive for Covid before Tonga match | England rugby union team


England were plunged into turmoil on the eve of their autumn internationals campaign after Owen Farrell was forced into isolation following a positive Covid-19 test, leaving the entire squad and staff sweating on the results of another round of tests overnight.

Unless Farrell’s initial PCR result proves to be a false-positive, England will begin their autumn campaign against Tonga on Saturday without their fly-half and captain. The Six Nations – who are organisers of the Autumn Nations Series – have confirmed to the Guardian that “government guidance applies”, meaning Farrell would have to isolate for 10 days and therefore miss next Saturday’s match against Australia as well.

The situation could get even worse after the Rugby Football Union opted for another round of testing for all players and staff on Friday. The results were not due until Saturday morning, just hours before England are due to host the Pacific islanders at Twickenham and any more positive tests would mean further chaos for Eddie Jones’s side. George Furbank is most likely to start at fly-half if Farrell misses out, though Marcus Smith could also be promoted from the bench. Courtney Lawes would be the frontrunner for the captaincy.

The Rugby Football Union confirmed Farrell’s positive result on Friday morning and as a result the 30-year-old, who was named to appear at fly-half against Tonga with Smith deemed ready only for a place on the bench, was forced to miss the captain’s run training session at Twickenham.

The Rugby Football Union opted to undertake a round of PCR testing after a member of Jones’s backroom staff produced a positive result from a lateral flow test on Thursday. All other members of staff and players produced negative PCR test results on Friday morning but a decision was made to undertake another round of tests. All players, except for Farrell, were able to train on Friday morning.

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On Thursday, Jones named Lawes, Tom Curry and Ellis Genge as vice-captains, though he refused to reveal who would step up if Farrell became unavailable. Lawes on Friday confirmed that Jones had appointed a potential replacement as part of England’s contingency planning but remained tight-lipped on who it would be, adding only that it would be an “honour” if he leads the side on his 93rd appearance.

“I don’t generally ask to be captain, I prefer playing that role of support for the skipper,” said Lawes. “I’ve got lots of experience and I can hopefully help drive the team in positive directions but generally I like to do it from the background. I think that’s just part of my personality but if I have to step up and be skipper like I have for Saints in the past then I’m happy to do that, I’d be very honoured to do it.”



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