ENGLAND rugby head coach Stuart Lancaster is facing mounting injury worries as he prepares for his first Six Nations as favourites, after Exeter flanker Tom Johnson was ruled out of the entire championship.
London Irish prop Alex Corbisiero, who looked set to start, and promising Gloucester fly-half Fredie Burns are also set to miss at least the first two matches, against Scotland and Ireland.
Lancaster has further concerns over Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi and Saracens back Alex Goode, both doubts for the Twickenham opener in nine days’ time.
The absence of Johnson, who is facing three months out after injuring his knee in Saturday’s defeat to Leinster, deprives England of back-row cover when they are already without flankers Calum Clark and Tom Croft.
But Corbisiero’s knee injury, which has kept him out since last month’s famous win over New Zealand, is likely to have greater impact and mean Harlequins’ Joe Marler reclaiming a starting place.
“Alex’s knee hasn’t settled down. It keeps swelling after small amounts of exercise,” Lancaster said. “We’ll get him rehabbed and back playing for London Irish. That will take him out of the first two games minimum.”
Burns is out for two or three weeks with a knee problem, and Lancaster said it was “too early to tell” whether Tuilagi’s ankle injury would clear for the Scotland game, while Goode faces a race to recover his fitness after overcoming shoulder damage.