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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Nick Purewal

Owen Farrell could resume centre role in Six Nations opener as England battle injury crisis

Familiar role: Owen Farrell is already used to playing at inside centre for England

(Picture: Getty Images)

Owen Farrell could start the Six Nations at inside centre as England face up to a midfield injury crisis.

New head coach Steve Borthwick had been expected to switch Farrell back to fly-half, having made the Saracens talisman his captain.

But Leicester centre Dan Kelly will miss Saturday's tournament opener against Scotland at Twickenham with a thigh injury suffered in training.

Elliot Daly has already been ruled out of the entire competition due to a 12-week hamstring injury, while Henry Slade will miss out after picking up a minor hip concern.

Leicester's Guy Porter has replaced his club-mate Kelly in England's training ranks. England's other fit centres are now Manu Tuilagi, Ollie Lawrence and Joe Marchant.

Sale have been deploying Tuilagi at inside centre but England have used the Samoa-born battering ram mainly at 13. Porter could slot in at 12 but he will only have a matter of days' preparation time ahead of the Scotland clash.

The most familiar option to this group of England players would be to start Harlequins' Marcus Smith at fly-half and skipper Farrell at inside centre. That would reprise the combination Eddie Jones employed across the autumn Tests, that culminated in him losing his job.

New attack coach Nick Evans said earlier this month that there is no reason why the Smith-Farrell axis cannot flourish at Test level. The pairing appeared off-kilter in November, but then England's entire attacking system failed to fire in the autumn.

“There is no reason why they can’t play together, there is no reason," said Evans, of Smith-Farrell. "But you have to be very clear, and it comes back to that piece around clarity, in what are we trying to achieve, how are we doing this, how does that go about, what does that detail look like.

"And then once everyone is clear on that then you can go forward. Some of the feedback was that maybe that wasn’t there (before), so maybe there was a bit of a crossover. And I think we find that at Quins in certain positions as well.

“So it’s just making sure that you’re very clear on roles and responsibilities. So there’s no reason why not, and it will align to how we want to play the game, and in form, and all that kind of stuff.”

England still hope hooker Jamie George can pass his return to play protocols after concussion in time to feature against the Scots.

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