ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster has thrown down the gauntlet to his remaining fly-halves after Owen Farrell was last night ruled out of the entire Six Nations campaign with a knee injury.
Bath No10 George Ford is expected to start against Wales in the Six Nations curtain-raiser at the Millennium Stadium a week on Friday after seizing his chance to impress during England’s autumn international programme.
The enigmatic Danny Cipriani remains in the equation to reignite an international career which has yielded nine caps after impressing domestically for Sale and recovering from his autumn omission, while Northampton’s Stephen Myler is the other option.
Farrell was set to provide midfield cover from the bench in Cardiff but became the latest injury victim for Lancaster to contend with after suffering a high grade medial ligament strain in Saracens’ European Champions Cup defeat at Clermont Auvergne on Sunday.
There could be further bad news for the England management as centre Brad Barritt is also receiving treatment for a knee ligament strain, and Lancaster is set to provide an injury update today.
“It’s a real shame for Owen [Farrell] that he sustained this injury and we wish him the best for his recovery,” said Lancaster.
“We are fortunate to have three other No10s in the squad in what is a very competitive position and are looking forward to seeing how they go during the Six Nations.”
Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetrees and Bath’s Jonathan Joseph are currently the only fit centres as England’s training squad continues its tournament preparations at Pennyhill Park in Surrey.
Barritt is struggling with his knee issue while Bath’s Kyle Eastmond is nursing a shoulder problem, although Northampton’s Luther Burrell is expected to return to training on Friday following time on the sidelines with concussion.
Leicester’s destructive force Manu Tuilagi has been left out of the senior training squad altogether as the 23-year-old battles to overcome a chronic groin injury picked up in October.
Lancaster also has problems in the second row and will start the Championship without Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury as well as No8 Ben Morgan, with the latter two ruled out for its duration.
Parling’s knee problem, sustained at Ulster on Saturday during a bruising round of European action, has prompted the elevation of uncapped lock Christian Day from the England Saxons as cover.
British and Irish Lions flanker Tom Croft has also been called into the senior squad from the second string because Tom Wood is struggling with ankle trouble, as Lancaster’s walking wounded continue to be monitored.
Lancaster added: “We will continue to assess and treat the other players’ injuries.”