Can George Ford’s return to fitness mask England’s Manu Tuilagi-shaped hole in their attack against Ireland?
Ireland will take on England for the first time in nearly a decade without Johnny Sexton or Conor Murray in their starting line-up on Saturday after Andy Farrell named an inexperienced half-back combination for Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup showdown, but the absence of another high-profile player could well come to dictate how the encounter plays out.
The absence of Irish captain Sexton, forced by a hamstring strain suffered in last week’s win over Wales, and 89-Test veteran Conor Murray, who is left among the replacements, means Leinster fly-half Ross Byrne is trusted to marshall Ireland outside club colleague Jamison Gibson-Park, a pairing that have just two Test starts between them.
It is an area that England may look to expose by pressuring them in defence, just as they have done so in their last three outings. Earlier this year they secured a dominant 24-12 victory at Twickenham that could and should have been far larger given the dominance Eddie Jones’s side enjoyed, with the Six Nations victory coming six months after a record 57-15 thrashing in their World Cup warm up. The two wins came off the back of the victory that set England’s wheels in motion towards the Rugby World Cup final that year, with their 2019 Six Nations triumph in Dublin one of the performances of the Eddie Jones era to knock off the then-defending champions on their own turf.
But on all three of those occasions, England had a not-so-secret weapon: Manu Tuilagi.
The centre has featured six times against Ireland since his first appearance back in 2011, in a World Cup warm-up where he certainly made his presence felt. Tuilagi scored that day and nearly bagged another from an interception on his own 22, though Irish fans will also remember the painful memory of the tackle that ended David Wallace’s career that day.
READ MORE: How to watch Autumn Nations Cup on Amazon Prime
But rather notably, when Tuilagi plays, England win. Ireland have not won when the Sale Sharks midfielder has been involved, and given their back-to-back losses to the Irish in 2017 and 2018, his return to fitness 18 months ago and England’s sudden dominance in this fixture are no coincidence. Both sides operate on gainline success, and the presence of a 111kg powerhouse centre certainly helps to produce that.
Which is why his absence this week, and indeed through the whole of the Autumn Nations Cup and Six Nations next year due to a ruptured Achilles, provides the greatest intrigue of Saturday’s Twickenham encounter: can England beat Ireland without Tuilagi?
The answer is of course yes, but whether they have yet worked out how to do so remains a mystery. Though England have won their last two games by a cumulative 74-5, they did come against Italy and Georgia – tier two sides as both Eddie Jones and forwards coach Matt Proudfoot have hammered home in complete disregard of Italy’s efforts of late. Against an Irish side that
By Andrew MacAskill
LONDON (Reuters) – The spread of the coronavirus continues to increase across all parts of England with cases doubling every nine days, according to a new study by Imperial College, putting pressure on the government to introduce more drastic lockdown restrictions.
The respiratory pandemic has killed more than 45,675 people in Britain, the highest death toll in Europe.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s strategy of local lockdowns to try to contain a second wave is failing to stem the number of infections. Anger is also rising over the economic, social and health costs of the biggest curtailment of freedoms since World War Two.
The infection rate is rising in all age groups with the highest spread of the disease in the northwest of England and Yorkshire and the Humber region, Imperial found.
The researchers calculated the reproduction “R” number of COVID-19 infections in England, which measures how many people an infected person will pass the disease to, is at 1.6, indicating the epidemic is growing.
“These interim findings paint a concerning picture of the situation in England, where we’re seeing a nation-wide increase in infection prevalence, which we know will lead to more hospitalisations and loss of life,” said Paul Elliott, the chair in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial.
“Now more than ever we must all work together to curb further spread of the virus and avoid subsequent overwhelming of the health service.”
The study, which involved testing more than 85,000 volunteers, found 128 per 10,000 people were infected in England in the two weeks ending Oct. 25, compared to 60 per 10,000 in the same period ending Oct. 5.
(Editing by Stephen Addison)
Boris Johnson and his chief scientific adviser have admitted to failings in England’s £12bn test-and-trace system as contact-tracing fell to a new low and waiting times for test results soared to almost double the target.
Under pressure to explain new figures showing less than 60% of close contacts being reached, while test turnaround times rose to nearly 48 hours, the prime minister said: “I share people’s frustrations and I understand totally why we do need to see faster turnaround times and we need to improve it.”
The system, designed to contain outbreaks by ensuring anyone exposed to the virus self-isolates, was helping “a bit”, Johnson added. “The thing depends on people self-isolating and breaking the transmission. It is helping a bit already to break the transmission. About 1m contacts have been reached. But there is more that it can do if everybody complies once they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace.”
Alongside him at a Downing Street press conference, Sir Patrick Vallance said problems with test and trace were in part inevitable as coronavirus cases rose in the second wave – but also a result of the system’s operation. They were “diminishing its effectiveness”, he said.
Another expert said test and trace was “struggling to make any difference to the pandemic”.
In the week ending 14 October, 59.6% of close contacts were reached, down from the previous week’s figure of 62.6%, which was the lowest since the test-and-trace operation was launched at the end of May.
Sage said in May that at least 80% of contacts must be reached for the system, described as “world-beating” by the government, to be effective. Documents published last week show Sage considers its success to be “marginal”.
In fact the true proportion of contacts of Covid patients reached is lower still: the latest report reveals 101,494 people tested positive but only 96,521 were transferred to the contact-tracing system, of whom just over 80% were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts. That means, overall, only 46% of close contacts were reached.
The latest performance statistics, published on Thursday, also showed Boris Johnson is further from delivering on his pledge that the results of all in-person tests will be returned within 24 hours.
The median time taken to receive a test result at regional sites rose to 45 hours, from 28 the previous week. Local test site result times increased to 47 hours from 29, and mobile test units rose to 41 hours from 26.
Vallance told a Downing Street press conference on Thursday: “It’s really important to concentrate on numbers of contacts [and] isolation as quickly as you can and getting things back as quickly as you can, ideally to get the whole process done within 48 hours. And it’s very clear there’s room