England blow as Lawes out of two Six Nations dates

 
Ross McLean
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Lawes has not played since 20 December
ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster has been dealt a Six Nations headache after Northampton Saints boss Jim Mallinder revealed second-row Courtney Lawes will today undergo surgery to cure an ankle injury.

Lawes is set to miss the opening clash against Wales on 6 February and the match with Italy a week later, while Lancaster’s back-row options are already stretched with Wasps lock Joe Launchbury and Gloucester No8 Ben Morgan already ruled out of the entire championship.

“This ankle has not settled down so I think he’ll probably need to have a little bit of surgery,” said Mallinder.

Bath boss Mike Ford, meanwhile, hailed a stunning contribution from England centre Jonathan Joseph as his side overpowered Pool Four leaders Toulouse yesterday to reignite their hopes of qualifying for the European Champions Cup quarter-finals.

Tries from wing Matt Banahan, scrum-half Chris Cook and Joseph fired Bath into a 25-15 lead at the break, despite France duo Yoann Huget and Yoann Maestri powering over in reply for the hosts.

A surging Joseph laid on a try for South Africa’s Francois Louw as fly-half George Ford successfully kicked three penalties, while Toby Flood replied with two of his own for the Top14 outfit.

Bath are now second in the table following their bonus-point victory, one point behind Toulouse, who travel to basement side Montpellier in their final pool game, while Bath host third-placed Glasgow.

“That last break by Jonathan Joseph was world-class and I’m pleased we finished it off with a try,” said Ford. “We get five points, they get nothing and we’re back in it. We’re a good side and we’re in a good place.”

Reigning Premiership champions Northampton face a Pool Five decider against Racing Metro at Franklin’s Gardens next weekend after eliminating Ospreys with a 20-9 success at Liberty Stadium.

Exeter Chiefs qualified for the European Challenge Cup knockout phase by ending a run of four consecutive defeats with a 33-24 victory over Connacht.