England's autumn celebrations have been tempered after No8 powerhouse Billy Vunipola emerged as a major doubt for next year’s Six Nations due to the knee injury he picked up during Saturday’s victory over Argentina.
World player of the year nominee Vunipola tore cartilage during England’s 27-14 triumph over Argentina and after undergoing surgery on Sunday the 24-year-old is set for a 12-week spell on the sidelines.
Grand Slam winners England begin their Six Nations defence against France at Twickenham on 4 February, while their championship concludes with a showdown with Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on 18 March.
Vunipola’s woes also represent a major blow to club side Saracens and their bid to land a third straight Premiership title as well as defend the European crown they secured by beating Racing 92 in May.
“Billy’s been absolutely fantastic for England over the last 11 months and we wish him a quick recovery,” said head coach Eddie Jones. “He’s a very influential player in the set-up and there’s no doubt he’ll be missed for the game against Australia.”
Wasps’ Fiji-born forward Nathan Hughes is a contender to replace Vunipola on Saturday despite an ongoing foot problem, while fellow back rowers Jack Clifford and Josh Beaumont have been added to England’s squad to face the Wallabies.
“Where there is an injury there’s an opportunity for some one else,” added Australian Jones.
“We’ve had five or six front line players missing throughout the series so I’ve no doubt we’ll adapt and work that little bit harder this week. I’m sure the players will respond to this by going up a level and peak for this game.”
Wing Elliot Daly will miss the match against Michael Cheika’s Australia following his red card against the Pumas at the weekend. Sale’s Mike Haley is part of England’s 33-man party for the clash after being called up in place of Daly.
Victory against Australia, who England whitewashed Down Under during the summer, would see the Red Rose navigate 2016 unbeaten as well as equal a national record of 14 successive Test wins set by Sir Clive Woodward’s vintage in 2003.