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England prop Joe Marler tests positive for Covid ahead of Australia clash

EXCLUSIVE: England’s preparations for their clash with Australia are thrown into chaos as prop Joe Marler tests positive for Covid-19… just days after captain Owen Farrell was forced into isolation with a false positive

England’s preparations for the showdown with Australia on Saturday have been disrupted by another COVID setback, as Joe Marler has tested positive.

The veteran Harlequins prop came off the bench last weekend to replace Ellis Genge as the national team claimed an emphatic 69-3 win over Tonga.

He is one of only two specialist looseheads in the squad, but now he will miss the fixture against the Wallabies and go through a 10-day period in isolation after positive lateral flow and PCR tests.

England prop Joe Marler is understood to have tested positive for Covid-19

This worrying development follows COVID chaos late last week, as a staff member tested positive and then so did Owen Farrell, forcing the England captain to isolate. However, his sample was sent for further laboratory examination and was deemed to have been a false positive – a verdict later ratified by NHS Test and Trace.

After initial fears that he would not be able to play against Australia, Farrell was cleared to re-join the rest of the Red Rose squad and is in line to lead the hosts in his 100th Test appearance. In his absence, Northampton full-back George Furbank deputised at fly-half and performed well in difficult circumstances. His club-mate, Courtney Lawes, acted as stand-in captain and he performed with distinction in the role.

Now, head coach Eddie Jones will need additional front-row cover. Genge will retain the No 1 shirt after his impressive outing in the autumn opener, but another loosehead would be needed to under-study the Leicester captain. The emergency could provide a swift route back into the squad for Mako Vunipola – as one of the exiled, experienced Saracens contingent with a point to prove.

The RFU have repeatedly emphasised that they are strictly adhering to all Government guidelines in relation to their COVID protocols and testing processes. Following his side’s win over Tonga, Jones highlighted the on-going need to be adaptable while the pandemic remains a threat to plans.

‘We’ve got no idea how long this COVID situation is going to last for and we’re going to get more situations like this,’ he said. ‘So the ability of the players to keep calm is important.’ His side kept calm and adapted well last weekend, but they will hope to avoid significant disruption this week, before taking on the dangerous Wallabies.