Owen Farrell is confident he will be fit to lead England into their Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland in Dublin.
Farrell on Saturday underwent surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his thumb, casting doubt over his involvement against Joe Schmidt’s champions at the Aviva Stadium on February 2.
Saracens have stated he will need seven to 10 days to recover but Farrell expects to be fully involved in the squad’s pre-tournament camp in Portugal that begins in earnest on Friday.
“The hand is good. I had something small done to it on the weekend,” Farrell said at the Six Nations launch in south west London.
“I should be training towards the end of this week. It was a gradual thing and is something small.”
When asked if he expected to play against Ireland, Farrell replied: “I’m confident, yes.”
As skipper, playmaker-in-chief, goalkicker and talisman, Farrell’s fitness is key to English hopes of causing an upset in a title-shaping showdown.
Hooker Dylan Hartley, Farrell’s co-captain, and flanker Chris Robshaw have been sidelined by knee injuries, leaving Eddie Jones without two trusted on-field lieutenants.
If Farrell fails to recover in time, George Ford will start at fly-half and would also be the main contender to lead the team with Maro Itoje an alternative for the role.
Despite the injury scare, Jones has opted against calling up any cover at 10 for the nine-day camp in the Algarve.
“I’m confident Owen is going to play and we’ve got George there as well so we’re well stocked for 10s,” Jones said.
Wasps forwards Joe Launchbury (neck), Brad Shields (side strain) and Nathan Hughes (ankle) are carrying knocks sustained against Leinster on Sunday but Jones refused to elaborate on their fitness.
“We get together today (Wednesday). If we trained today we’d have 34 out of 36 available because a couple are still sore after the weekend,” Jones said.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt revealed that when passing Jones in the venue for the Six Nations launch the Australian joked: “Get ready for a few grenades”.
When asked to elaborate, Jones responded: “They’re in Portugal, we’re in Portugal. I’m going to the airport now and buying a pair of binoculars.”
Jones had dinner with Wales boss Warren Gatland on Tuesday night – the Welsh Rugby Union picked up the bill – and among the topics of discussion were “where the game’s going, the Six Nations, the Lions tour”.
But England’s head coach narrowed his focus from broader issues to the challenge awaiting in Dublin when asked if he would select his most powerful ball carriers after Schmidt admitted the likes of the Vunipola brothers, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o offer a “point of difference” to Ireland’s smaller players.
“The only thing we can do is prepare well and be 100 per cent committed to how we want to play and take it from there,” Jones said.
“Whether it’s the biggest game of the tournament or not doesn’t really matter because our job is the same – our job is to prepare well and be the best we can be.
“There’s two contests against Ireland – one in the air and one on the ground – and we’ve got to win both of those to win the game.
“We’ll pick a side that can win the battle on the ground and the battle in the air. Whether they’re big and ugly or small and cute I don’t know yet.”