England’s Six Nations injury crisis has escalated after captain Owen Farrell was ruled out of the entire championship.
Farrell needs surgery on an ankle injury that prevented him from making his comeback for club Saracens last weekend.
Wing Jonny May will also miss next week’s opening fixture with Scotland, while Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler and Jonny Hill are doubts.
“It’s a massive blow for him personally and for the team it’s a blow,” said England head coach Eddie Jones of Farrell’s setback.
“But it’s obviously an opportunity for other guys to step up into leadership roles and for other players to play for that No12 jumper.
“We see it more as an opportunity. In today’s rugby, having your best team on the field is a rare occurrence. We’re pretty used to it. There’s an opportunity there to build a bit more leadership depth.”
Farrell had been due to play at inside centre, rather than his more usual fly-half, to accommodate young Harlequins star Marcus Smith at No10.
May has a knee injury that may also require an operation which would likely rule him out of the Six Nations.
Lawes has been unable to train this week as he observes return to play protocol following a head injury, Marler has tested positive for Covid-19 for the second time in three months, while Hill has a stress fracture in his lower leg.
Manu Tuilagi, who was not included in Jones’s initial Six Nations squad, has only a slim chance of recovering from a hamstring problem for the later rounds.