Courtney Lawes has been ruled out of England’s opening autumn international against Argentina, forcing Eddie Jones to appoint a new captain for Sunday’s fixture, but Jonny May has made a shock return to the squad and could face the Pumas.
Owen Farrell, who is also undergoing the return-to-play concussion protocols has been included in England’s training squad and would be the favourite for the captaincy if he is passed fit. Tom Curry and Ellis Genge are also candidates.
May, meanwhile, could complete an astonishing comeback if he is deemed ready to face Argentina, having suffered a dislocated elbow less than two weeks ago. He was expected to miss the entire autumn campaign but a trip to the specialist has evidently delivered good news and he will be integrated back into training this week.
Lawes has not played since sustaining a head injury on 24 September and Northampton revealed over the weekend he is still suffering symptoms. He did not travel to Jersey for last week’s training camp and has been omitted from the squad. Jack Willis and Sam Simmonds are standing by to fill the void in the back row while Maro Itoje could also shift there from lock.
Lawes’s ongoing symptoms are a worry given he was sidelined for six weeks with a similar injury suffered in January and missed the first two matches of the Six Nations. That was identified as a problem with his vestibular system, which gave him symptoms including persistent headaches and affected vision caused by “headrush”.
Farrell will “continue through the latter stages” of the return-to-play protocols after sustaining a concussion nine days ago. If he continues to progress without any setbacks he could be included against the Pumas, albeit with little training time.
With 97 England caps to his name, he has considerable credit in the bank, however, and he played a significant role in last week’s training camp in Jersey despite being absent. As well as holding virtual calls with Marcus Smith and the rest of the backs, Farrell was sent footage of training sessions to review in a clear indication of his influence over the squad.
“He contributes a lot,” said Smith. “He’s a brilliant leader whenever he’s in camp. He drives standards on and off the field, he’s full of ideas and he’s not afraid to speak up so we missed him for that but ultimately we were communicating with him because we feel like he can spot things and add things that we may have missed from being in the thick of it.”
Flanker Lewis Ludlam has been ruled out due to an abdominal injury suffered before joining up with England last week and has been replaced by Newcastle’s Sean Robinson. Henry Arundell, Jamie George and Will Stuart will all attend the camp to continue their rehabilitation.
Ludlam is on England’s list of 18 unavailable players which also includes Bristol’s Fijian wing Ratu Naulago. The 31-year-old, who is a private in the Yorkshire regiment, is a convert from rugby league, having joined Bristol in the summer of 2020 and has not played since April due to a knee injury. He has not featured in any of Jones’s training squads before but while he is not due to make his comeback for another month, he has evidently caught the head coach’s eye.
Elsewhere, the former Wasps fly-half Charlie Atkinson, who joined the England camp in Jersey last week, has completed a move to Leicester Tigers. Atkinson, 21, is not in the England squad this week, is eligible for Leicester immediately and could feature in Saturday’s match against Italy A.