Positive Covid test rules Marler out of England’s clash with Australia

Loosehead’s absence could mean a call-up for Mako Vunipola

Joe Marler will miss Saturday game against Australia after testing positive for Covid-19. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

The England prop Joe Marler has tested positive for Covid-19 and will miss Saturday's Autumn Nations Series match against Australia, in another blow to Eddie Jones' side.

Marler began isolating for 10 days on Monday evening after lateral flow and PCR tests confirmed he has the virus. The loosehead prop’s positive test came after England had a full day of training on Monday.

The Harlequins forward played 14 minutes as a second-half replacement in Saturday’s 69-3 victory over Tonga that launched the autumn campaign and was destined for a similar role in the second of the three fixtures at Twickenham this month.

Jones is now considering whether to call up a replacement knowing there are now only two specialist looseheads in the squad. Newcastle’s Trevor Davison can cover both sides of the scrum but is primarily a tighthead. Mako Vunipola is the most likely candidate to be called up to support first-choice Ellis Genge, in what would be another dramatic recall for one of England’s discarded old guard.

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The setback comes three days after Owen Farrell was initially ruled out against Tonga because of a positive Covid test, only for a re-examination of his sample to show that his result was a false-positive.

In his absence, George Furbank performed with distinction at outhalf until Marcus Smith arrived in the third quarter and reignited the attack, while Courtney Lawes took over the captaincy for the 69-3 rout at Twickenham.

All staff and players are awaiting the results of another round of PCR tests in the wake of Marler’s positive, but the defence coach Anthony Seibold insists England are taking the setbacks in their stride.

Three changes

“At the weekend we showed we were able to handle that disruption, if you want to call it that, and I’ve been really impressed with the way the group handled this morning,” said Seibold.

Meanwhile, Elton Jantjies has been drafted in at outhalf for South Africa's Test against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday in one of three changes from the side that narrowly beat Wales last week.

Jantjies was named to replace Handre Pollard in the starting line-up, while Franco Mostert will win a 50th cap as he takes over at lock from Lood de Jager.

Willie le Roux, rested against Scotland after a poor performance in the Rugby Championship against New Zealand in Brisbane at the start of last month, returns at fullback after Damien Willemse was hurt in Cardiff.

“Scotland will be a force to be reckoned with at Murrayfield, so it was important for us to maintain continuity within our squad, while at the same time giving Elton a chance to start,” explained coach Jacques Nienaber .

“Elton has been training very well since the squad assembled before the British & Irish Lions Series and he’s performed well every time he earned a run, so we thought it was the right time to hand him a start.”

SOUTH AFRICA (v Scotland): W le Roux; J Kriel, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; E Jantjies, H Jantjies; O Nche, B Mbonambi, T Nyakane, E Etzebeth, F Mostert, S Kolisi (capt), K Smith, D Vermeulen. Replacements: M Marx, S Kitshoff, V Koch, L de Jager, J Wiese, C Reinach, H Pollard, F Steyn.