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England’s midfield options dwindling as Ollie Lawrence and Oscar Beard withdraw

Ollie Lawrence is a doubt for England’s Six Nations opener (Mike Egerton/PA)
Ollie Lawrence is a doubt for England’s Six Nations opener (Mike Egerton/PA)

England’s midfield options for their Guinness Six Nations opener against Italy are dwindling after Ollie Lawrence and Oscar Beard withdrew from Steve Borthwick’s squad because of injury.

Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie has also been replaced in a triple setback as the squad departed for their pre-Championship training camp in Girona.

Beard suffered concussion in Harlequins’ European victory over Ulster on Saturday while Cowan-Dickie was replaced early in the second half of Sale’s defeat by La Rochelle a day later because of an undisclosed medical condition.

Ollie Lawrence finished Bath’s loss at Toulouse on Sunday but there are no details of his injury.

Luke Cowan-Dickie has withdrawn from England's Six Nations squad
Luke Cowan-Dickie has withdrawn from England’s Six Nations squad (Seven Paston/PA)

Bath’s Max Ojomoh and Will Muir have been called into England’s 36-man Six Nations squad to plug the gaps in midfield, while Jamie Blamire of Newcastle replaces Cowan-Dickie.

If he is definitively ruled out against Italy on Saturday week, Lawrence will be a significant loss given he was expected to form a centre partnership with Henry Slade at the Stadio Olimpico.

Lawrence has been a force for Bath this season and, crucially, is able to switch from his preferred position at 13 to 12 where England are short of credible options.

Slade has filled inside centre in the past but is a better fit at outside, leaving the uncapped Fraser Dingwall in pole position to secure the number 12 jersey.

Beard will still travel to Girona as he completes the return to play protocols for concussion but Cowan-Dickie will remain at home to see a specialist.

England’s midfield problems are exacerbated by Owen Farrell’s decision to miss the entire Six Nations to prioritise his mental health, and the groin injury that has sidelined Manu Tuilagi for a month.

Both can play inside centre but only Tuilagi has any chance of being involved in the Championship.

“Manu will be fit, hopefully in the early part, so hopefully he’ll play a major part in the middle to latter part of the tournament,” said Borthwick at last Wednesday’s squad announcement.

Borthwick rates Ojomoh highly but sees the 23-year-old as an option for the future given his inexperience, with Bath seeing Cameron Redpath as their preferred inside centre.

“Max is a really good player with huge amounts of potential. He will be in and around the England squad if he keeps the trajectory he is on. Unfortunately Bath are playing the Scottish centre at 12 too often,” Borthwick said.

Borthwick has told his players that starting on Thursday they will face gruelling practice sessions at their Girona base, but their workload will be offset by plenty of down time.

“Make no bones about it, we are going to train exceptionally hard because we are preparing to compete with the best teams in the world,” he said.

“But off the field you need to be able to relax, recover and enjoy each other’s company.

“A trait I really want in the players is that when we are on, the intensity, focus, concentration and intent is at as high a level as you can possibly achieve.

“If I want to keep increasing that level, the players have got to relax in between those moments. They’ve got to recover so that we can get the next peak. Girona offers us that.”