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Six Nations: England will not panic if Farrell loses fitness battle

By Duncan Bech

Owen Farrell faces a race against time to prove his fitness as fears grow over his availability for England's Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland at Twickenham today.

Farrell missed the eve-of-match captain's run because of an unspecified leg injury incurred during training on Thursday and will be given the next 24 hours to demonstrate he is ready.

Defence coach Paul Gustard said: "Owen didn't train and we're monitoring his leg injury.

"We have until before kick-off to make a decision, which means he has at least another 24 hours of recovery ahead of him. We'll make a call as and when we know more."

England have decided against calling in anyone as cover, instead relying on the 24 players retained for the penultimate round of the Six Nations.

The most likely contingency would see Ben Te'o promoted from the bench to fill the void at inside centre and Jonny May, currently acting as 24th man, stepping on to the bench.

However, if fly-half George Ford were to be struck by injury, the lack of cover in the position would leave England exposed.

"We're not bringing anyone in. We're obviously very happy with Ben in the squad. We have Jonny May with us at the moment as 24th man, so we have some flexibility as cover," Gustard said.

"We're really confident (with our options if Owen misses out). We're very happy with the squad that we've got and the 24 that we chose for this game. Whatever combination we end up with at 10, 12, 13, we're happy."

Concern over Farrell's fitness has escalated since, on Thursday, Eddie Jones gave conflicting answers about his availability to face Scotland.

When asked for an update on Farrell, a spiky Jones offered contrary messages.

"Owen could be a doubt, he could be a doubt. He's got a bad leg, so he couldn't finish training. He'll be alright,'' Jones said.

Farrell was expected to be given the green light, but his inability to take part in the session at Twickenham yesterday has set alarm bells ringing.

Alongside Ford and Mike Brown, the World Player of the Year nominee was involved in kicking practice overseen by Jonny Wilkinson but would only rehearse technique rather than actually putting boot to ball.

England are sure to give Farrell every opportunity to demonstrate his fitness for a match that could deliver a record-equalling 18th successive Test victory.

Only New Zealand have previously amassed that number, setting the milestone last year.

England are the Six Nations' solitary unbeaten team, keeping them on course for a successful defence of the Grand Slam, and they could also retain their title if Scotland are toppled, yet they have not played to their potential so far in the tournament.

"We've done a lot of good stuff. In the last two weeks, we've focused on ourselves a lot. We're looking to improve," Gustard said. "We have objectives that we're looking for and I think we're in a good place.

"The boys are a in a good place, they're happy and excited to play for their country. Everyone is looking forward to playing Scotland."

Meanwhile, Stuart Hogg may have spent the past month being scared witless by Scotland skipper John Barclay, but he insists it will be no shock if his side stun England at Twickenham.

A series of videos showing the Glasgow full-back leaping in terror as Barclay appears from nowhere to scream in his face have gone viral in recent weeks.

But Hogg reckons the clips just highlight the air of positivity running through Vern Cotter's squad after victories over Ireland and Wales.

It is 34 years since a Dark Blues team won in London, but Hogg insists no one should be startled if Scotland emerge victorious.

Asked if an away win should be considered a shock, he said: "No, we're more than capable of winning and we're going to do everything we can.

"We talked a lot about our goals and it's now about making those goals a reality. Nothing is going to stand in our way."

Belfast Telegraph

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