ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster is refusing to panic despite suffering two serious injury blows just days before Saturday’s RBS Six Nations opener against Scotland.
Centre Manu Tuilagi has been ruled out of the Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham, while Lancaster revealed prop Alex Corbisiero will miss the entire championship.
Leicester’s Tuilagi, one of England’s most potent threats, has an ankle injury that had been expected to heal by the weekend but is now in a race to be fit to face Ireland eight days later.
“Manu is a big loss. He was outstanding against New Zealand,” said Lancaster, referring to last month’s historic triumph over the All Blacks.
“But he missed the first two games of last year’s Six Nations because of a hamstring and it’s an opportunity for someone else.
“We have a pretty good idea of how we’ll rejig the midfield. It changes the emphasis a little bit, but it won’t fundamentally affect the way we play.”
Saracens’ Brad Barritt is likely to retain his place, with Jonathan Joseph of London Irish and Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetrees vying to play alongside him, although fly-halves Toby Flood and Owen Farrel offer alternatives.
“Brad will be in the equation and we need to make sure we can still break the gainline and have physical defenders,” Lancaster added.
Corbisiero was last week ruled out of the first two fixtures but has been told that his knee problem will take far longer to mend.
The London Irish star, who joins flankers Tom Johnson and Calum Clark in missing the tournament, is likely to be replaced in the starting XV by Harlequins’ Joe Marler or Saracens’ Mako Vunipola.
“Alex is a big loss, but Joe Marler has played well for Harlequins recently,” Lancaster said. “Mako Vunipola is improving all the time and [Gloucester’s] Nick Wood was outstanding for the Saxons.”
Lancaster is also set to be without promising Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns for the first two fixtures, but full-back Alex Goode hopes to be fit to face Scotland after making his comeback for Saracens on Sunday.