MARCUS Smith is a doubt for England’s clash against Tonga on Saturday after a leg injury restricted his training ahead of the match at Twickenham.
England coach Eddie Jones, however, was “cautiously optimistic” he would be able to field his intended 10-12 partnership of Smith and Red Rose captain Owen Farrell for the Autumn Nations Series opener against the Pacific islanders.
Smith has so far been limited to ball-handling work during England’s training sessions and a decision on his fitness is now set to be made on Thursday ahead of a scheduled team announcement.
“We’re being conservative with him but we’re cautiously optimistic that he’ll be right to play,” Jones said on Tuesday. “We are keen for him to be involved in the game. If we don’t get to see him this week, we will get to see him next week.”
Jones did not pick 77-times capped fly-half George Ford in his squad for the November encounters at home to Tonga, Australia and South Africa, the team that beat England in the 2019 World Cup final.
Smith won his two England caps to date after guiding Harlequins to the Premiership title last season, but such was his form he received a late call-up to the British and Irish Lions squad in South Africa.
In a BT Sport interview last week, Jones labelled Ford a “good player”, but added: “I think we’ve got to become much more aggressive in the early part of when we get the ball and we’re keen to know what Marcus and Owen can do together.”
Smith is not the only injury concern in England’s back division, with full-back Freddie Steward also doubtful for the Tonga match with a leg problem, while an injury to Raffi Quirke has left Ben Youngs and Alex Mitchell as the only fit scrum-halves in the England squad.
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