Wasps flier Paolo Odogwu is set to earn a dramatic England call-up for the Six Nations, as reward for his scorching club form this season.
The 23-year-old from Coventry has enjoyed an eye-catching purple patch while flitting between the wing and centre in recent weeks, culminating in a man-of-the-match performance against Bath, in a pulsating Premiership clash at The Rec 12 days ago. His two tries and dazzling line-breaks appear to have convinced Eddie Jones that he is worthy of inclusion in a 28-man Red Rose squad for the annual championship, which is due to be named on Friday.
Odogwu has Nigerian heritage but also qualifies for Italy through his father, leading to speculation that he may become a target for the Azzurri. However, Sportsmail understands that England will act fast to secure the allegiance of this emerging sensation of the domestic game, who has made more clean breaks and gained more metres than any other player in the league so far in this campaign.
Paolo Odogwu (centre) is set for a call-up to England’s Six Nations squad after stunning form
The 23-year-old Odogwu has stamped his identity all over the Premiership in recent months
The former Leicester and Sale rookie has found a niche in Lee Blackett’s title-chasing Wasps side and now international recognition beckons to maintain a rapid personal breakthrough. He recognises how the shift in-field has aided his cause. Speaking to Sportsmail, Odogwu said: ‘Playing at centre has allowed me to get more touches.’
Addressing the issue of Test allegiance which had suddenly become a hot topic, he added: ‘I’m dual nationality, so I could play for Italy or England. It wasn’t something I’d thought of until it started getting blown up in the media this week! It’s just been a case of “let’s see what happens”.’ All the indications now are that something big is about to happen for Odogwu.
Bath went into a Covid lock-down on Tuesday, in a desperate bid to contain an outbreak which could threaten to further disrupt the Premiership and also impact on England’s Six Nations preparations.
The West Country club discovered that a number of players and staff had tested positive for the virus, leading to the abrupt closure of their Farleigh House training complex. All of Bath’s rugby personnel have gone into enforced isolation at home to await the results of contact tracing and an extra round of testing which has been arranged for Thursday.
England head coach Eddie Jones is due to name the Wasps flier in his 28-man squad on Friday
Stuart Hooper’s side are due to re-launch the domestic season with a derby against near-neighbours Bristol at Ashton Gate in nine days’ time. The Bears confirmed on Tuesday that they have had the all-clear from their own latest tests, but if the Bath outbreak is widespread and several players have to complete a 10-day quarantine period on contact tracing grounds, they could struggle to fulfil the fixture.
This latest Covid-related setback has come at a time when Premiership clubs were hoping to lower the risk of transmission, after deciding not to bring forward league matches to fill two empty weekends, following the cancellation of European games. Five English top-flight fixtures have been cancelled already in the early stages of this season and officials will wait until next week before deciding if Bristol vs Bath has to be added to that growing list.
Hooper, Bath’s director of rugby, said: ‘This is an anxious time for us all and the mental as well as physical health of our people and their families is our priority. Our planned training sessions have been cancelled and those able to train from home will now do so. My team and I are focused on doing all we can to be ready to play our up-and-coming fixtures, but I will not allow the health of our people to be compromised.’
Initially, this is a problem for Bath and the Premiership, but it may have ramifications for England too. Jones’s squad are due to go into camp early next week to prepare for their Six Nations opener against Scotland at Twickenham on February 6. There are likely to be a quartet of Bath players in the squad to be named by Jones on Friday – Anthony Watson, Sam Underhill, Jonathan Joseph and Will Stuart – and their initial involvement may be jeopardised by this outbreak.
Elsewhere, Bath have closed their training ground with all players and staff isolating at home
The Gallagher Premiership club have returned a number of positive coronavirus tests
Meanwhile, Sale owner Simon Orange has delivered a robust defence of the Premiership’s new system for allocating league points for cancelled matches; two to the club unable to fulfil the fixture and four to the other club. Amid claims that the procedure could be open to abuse, Orange said – in a letter to Sharks supporters: ‘Anyone who comments about “playing the Covid card” is, at best, talking nonsense and at worst being incredibly insensitive.
‘The Covid testing protocols in place across the Premiership are entirely independent and cannot be manipulated by clubs for their own purpose/gain. Anyone who suggests that clubs would seek to deliberately contract the virus to avoid certain fixtures does not warrant a response.’
Orange also defended the PRL decision not to bring forward fixtures – arguing that to do so might have might have had the effect of ‘compromising’ the league and putting ‘greater stress’ on the NHS. Other factors in the decision were the on-going absence of crowds and the fact that European fixtures would not need to be rescheduled.
On that basis, Orange added: ‘I’m sure there are many people out there who think they know better and have better solutions, but there are also very capable club owners, CEOs and PRL executives involved in the decision-making. As one of those individuals, I believe we have come to the right conclusion and am fully supportive of the outcome on these two issues.’