England head coach Eddie Jones was dealt a further blow to an already pounding injury headache after European player of the year Maro Itoje was ruled out of his side’s autumn internationals with a fractured right hand.
Itoje will require surgery on the injury he suffered during Saracens’ European Champions Cup victory over Scarlets at Allianz Park on Saturday and is set to be sidelined for six weeks.
The 21-year-old’s injury is the latest setback to rock England’s preparations for their autumn programme, which begins with a showdown against South Africa at Twickenham on 12 November.
Itoje was under consideration to start against the Springboks at openside flanker after James Haskell suffered a long-term toe problem in Australia during the summer, while potential replacements Sam Jones, Jack Clifford and Mike Williams have all since been ruled out through injury.
Jones is set to name his squad for the autumn clashes tomorrow, and is also without George Kruis, who had established a fearsome second row partnership with Itoje, as well as Bath wing Anthony Watson.
The loss of Itoje, who helped England to Six Nations grand slam glory before playing all three matches during the Red Rose’s whitewash of Australia in June, is likely to prove a bitter blow to Jones.
Wasps lock Joe Launchbury and Northampton counterpart Courtney Lawes could now come into contention for the matches against South Africa, as well as later tussles with Fiji, Argentina and Australia.
Itoje is also set to miss at least six Premiership fixtures. Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: “For any team to lose a player of the ability of Maro is a blow and he will be missed through the autumn for both Saracens and England.
“What’s now important for Maro is his recovery and we look forward to his return later this season.”