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 3.
Saracens issued a prognosis of seven to 10 days of recovery 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 captain, playmaker-in-chief, goalkicker and talisman, Farrell’s fitness is key to England’s hopes of causing an upset against Ireland.
Dylan Hartley, Farrell’s co-captain, and 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 in the number 10 jersey and could also be named skipper with Maro Itoje an alternative for the role.
Despite the injury scare, Jones has opted against calling up any cover 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.”
Warren Gatland says there is “definitely nothing concrete” in place for his next coaching role after he leaves Wales.
Gatland said last week that he has had informal conversations about possibly coaching the British and Irish Lions for a third time when they head to South Africa in 2021.
But while he is unlikely to be short of worldwide job offers, given his coaching calibre, nothing is currently on the table.
Gatland is about to embark on his final Six Nations campaign as Wales head coach, which will be followed by a World Cup swansong in Japan later this year.
Wales have won three Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, during a 12-year reign under Gatland that also saw them reach the 2011 World Cup semi-finals.
“I have had a couple of discussions with some people at the moment, yeah,” Gatland said, speaking at Wales’ training base.
“But there is definitely nothing concrete. Maybe at the end of the World Cup I will be unemployed.
“I was looking to take a few months off and then start looking in the middle of 2020, potentially do some Super Rugby in New Zealand if there was an opportunity.
“But I am also aware that there are not a lot of jobs in New Zealand. That might not be an option.
“So whether it is back in club rugby in the Premiership, or France or Japan, or something like that.”
Gatland’s coaching CV includes masterminding the Lions’ 2013 Test series victory over Australia, plus a drawn series with the world champion All Blacks two years ago and European and domestic title success at Wasps.
Current Scarlets head coach and fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac will succeed Gatland in the Wales hotseat from November.
“I take a lot of pride in the fact we go out there and it doesn’t matter who we play, they know they are in for one hell of a tough game,” Gatland added.
“I’ve watched and been to a number of games at the old Millennium Stadium and seen the All Blacks put out a second-string team against Wales. There is no way they would do that now.
“We’ve put ourselves in positions where we should have beaten Australia on more occasions, but we’ve been pretty good against South Africa in winning five of our last six games.
“Success for me is not always about winning, it’s about over-achieving.
“If you look at Premiership football and a team like Bournemouth, they’ve been successful because they are over-achieving in terms of what people expect.
“If Cardiff City stay up this season they will have been successful and over-achieved because everyone expects them to get relegated. That’s the way I look at things.
“For me it’s not always about winning, it’s about becoming hard to beat, and if you do that you get a sense of pride in how you do things. Then it’s about winning more often and developing your game.”
Wales’ 12th Six Nations campaign of the Gatland era begins against France in Paris on Friday week.
“I think what’s changed about it is how competitive the Six Nations has become,” Gatland said.
“There was a period when, leading into the Six Nations, everyone said it was between England and France and that those two teams should play on the final weekend and everyone else just made up the numbers.
“I was involved in the old Five Nations before Italy were involved, and they are still playing a bit of catch-up and they are pretty aware of it.
“But at the moment, I think the other five teams on their day are capable of beating each other and capable of winning the Six Nations.”
Munster’s influential lock Tadhg Beirne will miss Ireland’s opening two Guinness Six Nations clashes due to a knee injury.
Ireland have called up Connacht lock Quinn Roux as cover, ahead of their Six Nations opener against England in Dublin on February 2.
Leinster’s Adam Byrne has been added to the Irish contingent’s training camp in Portugal, with Rob Kearney and Jack McGrath remaining with the province this week for extra game time.
Former Scarlets lock Beirne starred again as Munster bruised past Exeter 9-7 in Saturday’s Champions Cup victory, though his injury loss is offset by Iain Henderson’s return to action with Ulster.
“Following a scan Tadgh Beirne has been ruled out of the opening two rounds of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations with a knee injury,” the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) confirmed in a statement.
“Connacht’s Quinn Roux has been called into the squad.”
Ireland will start the defence of their Six Nations title by hosting England in Dublin, before taking on Scotland at Murrayfield a week later.
Beirne will now miss both encounters, but Ireland are expecting a better outlook for the likes of full-back Kearney, who is shaking off a minor thigh complaint.
“Adam Byrne will travel to Portugal as Andrew Conway picked up a knock against Exeter at the weekend and will be unable to train this week,” continued the IRFU statement.
“Conway will be fully fit to train next week. Jack Conan will continue his treatment at Leinster this week and will be fully fit to train next week.
“Rob Kearney and Jack McGrath will remain with Leinster in order to gain game time in the Guinness PRO14 this weekend.
“All other players reporting niggles from the weekend will be managed by the Ireland medical team in Portugal.”