Owen Farrell is on course to face Argentina in England’s opening autumn international after he was named in Eddie Jones’s trimmed squad for the Test on Sunday.
Farrell is nearing the end of his return-to-play head injury protocols and provided he completes the process on Friday he will be available to rekindle his playmaker axis with the fly‑half Marcus Smith.
Farrell sustained a concussion in Saracens’ victory against Exeter on 22 October and was unable to fly to England’s training camp in Jersey last week as a result. He has rejoined the squad this week, however, and on Wednesday played a significant if not comprehensive part in training. He has passed all the protocols so far with England preparing to unleash a midfield combination with Smith, Farrell and Manu Tuilagi at the start of a Test for the first time.
If Farrell is declared fit he would be the favourite for the captaincy in the absence of Courtney Lawes. Ellis Genge and Tom Curry are other options.
“He’s just going through the last bits of his return to play but everything’s gone according to plan so far,” the England attack coach, Martin Gleeson said. “He’s cleared every stage up to now, which is just about the end. His partnership with Marcus is a big part of where we want to go as a team and we want to build on that this autumn.”
Jonny May has been retained in the squad despite sustaining a dislocated elbow less than two weeks ago. Given Jones has retained only 10 backs, May would be part of the 23‑man squad if the head coach opts for a conventional 5-3 bench against Argentina, which would mark a miraculous return. Gleeson was more circumspect over May’s involvement, however, and Jones could also opt for six forwards among his replacements if the Gloucester wing is unavailable.
“[Jonny’s] healing powers are unbelievable,” Gleeson said. “He’s in a good spot and is potentially available for this weekend, but we’re not 100% sure on that yet.”
In a further boost for England, Luke Cowan-Dickie is primed for action despite sustaining a knee injury against Saracens. The Exeter player is just one of two hookers, along with Jack Singleton, selected in the 25-man group. “He took part in some of the session today and like Owen he’s progressing and ticking all the boxes so far,” Gleeson said. “As it stands he’s still available.”
Among the 15 forwards retained are the uncapped trio Alex Coles, David Ribbans and Sean Robinson with Jones having to decide on how best to fill the back-row void left by Lawes’s absence before naming his side on Friday. It is believed Northampton’s Coles has impressed in training and is pushing for a start, either at lock or in the back-row. Jack Willis and Sam Simmonds are also contenders for the back row but may have to make do with a spot on the bench if Jones prefers a blindside flanker more in the mould of Lawes.
With Raffi Quirke among the 11 players returning to their clubs, Ben Youngs and Jack van Poortvliet are set to share scrum-half duties while Jack Nowell and Joe Cokanasiga are shaping up as the starting wingers if May is not deemed ready. Kyle Sinckler is set for his first England appearance since the Six Nations as one of two tighthead props along with Joe Heyes.