England’s Owen Farrell cleared to face Australia after Covid false positive | England rugby union team

Owen Farrell has been cleared to face Australia this Saturday after public health authorities accepted he had produced a false-positive Covid-19 result but England have moved to tighten their protocols after their captain was forced to miss out on the emphatic win over Tonga.

Farrell rejoined the England squad on Sunday, having been forced to miss the 69-3 victory on Saturday while in isolation, and is poised to return against the Wallabies. He was named as part of a 34-man squad – all of whom will remain in camp for the entire week to “help enhance the Covid resilience of the team’s boundary” following the scare last week which left players fearing the Tonga match would be called off.

Farrell learned of his positive result late last Thursday and after the Rugby Football Union requested the sample was retested, England were informed on Friday night that it was indeed a false positive. In order for Farrell to be released from isolation, however, approval from both the UK Health Security Agency – formerly Public Health England – and NHS test and trace was required. That approval was not fully granted until Sunday, leaving Farrell forced to sit and watch the 11-try victory against Tonga from isolation.

In his absence, George Furbank and the replacement Marcus Smith performed admirably at fly-half – while Courtney Lawes led the side with distinction – but Farrell’s availability will be welcomed by Eddie Jones, who is seeking an eighth successive win against Australia since taking charge. Smith’s impressive cameo makes him favourite to start at fly-half with Farrell potentially returning at inside-centre.

Farrell and the rest of the squad took PCR tests only as a precaution after a member of Jones’s backroom staff produced a positive lateral flow test. Given that the playing squad and staff are above the 85% double vaccination threshold, social distancing measures have been relaxed for this campaign, in line with the guidelines designed by the Six Nations, who are overseeing the Autumn Nations Series.

Following the upheaval of last week, however, an agreement has been reached with Premiership Rugby and the players’ union to allow Jones to keep all 34 players in camp all week. The squad selected on Sunday is the same as that selected a week ago, minus Louis Lynagh, with Max Malins and Raffi Quirke coming back into contention having missed out against Tonga with injury.

Australia’s five-match winning run was ended on Sunday by Scotland in Edinburgh but Jones is still expecting a fierce battle against his compatriots as he prepares to lock horns with Dave Rennie for the first time at international level.

“The one thing I know is that we don’t get a head start from being ahead 7-0 against them,” said Jones. “They all start 0-0, they are a very well-coached team by Dave Rennie, a few of their senior players like [Michael] Hooper are playing exceptionally well. [The scrum-half] Nic White is playing exceptionally well and they have got a lot of talented youngsters coming through.

“The breakdown against Australia is going to be brutal. Rennie’s teams are always renowned for being exceptional at the breakdown, so we are lucky we have got the best referee in the world in Jaco Peyper who is particularly very good in that breakdown area, so we are going to get a great contest.”

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