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Sport

Rugby: Jones tees up Umaga and Furbank as future England flyhalves

LONDON (Reuters) - England coach Eddie Jones delivered one of his classic curveballs on Monday when he included Jacob Umaga in his latest squad then suggested Northampton fullback George Furbank could be the team’s next flyhalf.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - England Training - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - October 17, 2020 England head coach Eddie Jones during training Pool via REUTERS/Adam Davy

Jones has named a squad for the Six Nations game against Italy and November tests without Joe Simmonds, fresh from captaining Exeter to a European and domestic double, or Harlequins’ Marcus Smith, man of the match in England’s non-cap game against the Barbarians last year.

With George Ford set to miss Saturday’s game in Rome through injury and Umaga a test rookie, Furbank could find himself on the bench offering cover at fullback and for captain Owen Farrell.

Furbank, who has only dabbled at flyhalf, had a less than stellar introduction to the test scene in England’s defeat by France in their opening Six Nations game in February, though he looked more comfortable in his second game against Scotland.

“I believe he can be a very good 10, maybe that’s going to be a position that we consider him strongly for in the future,” Jones said of the 24-year-old.

“I’ve always had this feeling and speaking to (Northampton coach) Chris Boyd has reinforced that he has got the ability to play 10. He has done that for Northampton at the end of games when Dan Biggar has done one of those giant leaps in the air and ended the wrong way so he is an exciting prospect there.

“He’s got a calm demeanour, good catch and pass skills, a solid kicking game and he’s a strong defender so he has all the attributes. Whether it happens during the autumn we are not sure but certainly in terms of preparation we will be pushing him in that direction.”

Umaga, who scored a brilliant individual try for Wasps in Saturday’s Premiership final defeat by Exeter, has also impressed Jones.

“I like the way he attacks the line and he reads the game well,” the Australian said of the 22-year-old with a rich international pedigree. “You need a player who’s very instinctive - you can’t coach them to do it, they just do it.”

Jones again drew on his Japanese heritage to speculate on how Umaga might come to follow All Black uncle Tana and his Samoan international father Mike into the international arena.

“Tens are like sushi chefs,” he said. “It’s a lifetime ambition and it generally takes you about 10 years before you can start making sushi.

“He is at the start of the apprenticeship and he might graduate very quickly and be able to make sushi at the corner stall and then he might be able to make sushi at a five-star restaurant. The development of the player is something no one knows.

“Dan Carter was at his best at 35 but the game is changing. When Mark Ella played he had probably 15 metres between him and the defence line. Now when the 10 has the ball he has literally three metres before someone is going to bang him.

“The ability to make decisions quickly is extraordinarily difficult. With those young guys I think you have got to be patient, you have got to allow them to come through. You have to identify those who have that instinctiveness about them and then try to bring them through.” (This story refiles to make it clear in intro that Furbank is a fullback)

Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge

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