England’s turbulent build-up to the autumn continued after Courtney Lawes joined Manu Tuilagi in being ruled out of the climax to the Six Nations against Italy and the Autumn Nations Cup.
Lawes must undergo surgery on the ankle injury sustained on club duty for Northampton against Sale eight days ago and faces three months of rehabilitation.
It means the 31-year-old Lions lock will miss the trip to Rome on October 31 that concludes the interrupted 2020 Six Nations and the four Tests that comprise the tournament replacing the end-of-year tours.
The blow comes in the wake of Tuilagi being sidelined for six months because of a torn Achilles, a more significant injury that also means the Sale centre will be absent for the whole of next year’s Championship.
Both players started last autumn’s World Cup final defeat by South Africa and they remain integral parts of Eddie Jones’ plans.
With Lawes unavailable, England have lost two experienced operators in the second row due to George Kruis’ departure for Japanese club rugby, making him ineligible for international selection under Rugby Football Union rules.
Jones has named two uncapped locks in his first training squad of the autumn by including Northampton duo Alex Moon and David Ribbans in a 27-man squad picked to begin preparations for the Barbarians’ visit to Twickenham on October 25 and the Italy clash.
“We wish Courtney all the best and hope he has a very good recovery,” England defence coach John Mitchell said.
“Injuries are part of the game and naturally he will be disappointed. He’s very experienced and is a fantastic guy to have in your team and is well enjoyed by his team-mates.
“But he’ll be the first to acknowledge that another person gets an opportunity now to stake a claim.
“That’s very good for us because someone else developing in his absence will make us two stronger as a result.
“We’ve got some really good talent in the second row. We have some good lock resources and this is now an opportunity for someone else and this will create more depth. Competition is healthy and very important to any team.”
Squad update Piers Francis will not be part of this week’s England camp because of a positive screening test for Covid-19.
Francis is following relevant isolation protocols at home in line with PHE-agreed guidelines.
Stay well Piers 🌹 pic.twitter.com/eHnvwUXqp9
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 6, 2020
England’s 27-strong group that has gathered in south west London for a three-day camp have been able to continue training without further mishap following Piers Francis’ withdrawal on Tuesday having tested positive for coronavirus.
Francis is the second Northampton Saint who has been unable to join the squad at the Lensbury after Lewis Ludlam was forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with infected Sale players.
In total, 27 personnel at the Sharks have been diagnosed with COVID-19, resulting in the cancellation of their rearranged final-round fixture against Worcester on Wednesday night.
The outbreak at Sale meant that Jones was unable to select from them or Worcester, plus semi-finalists Exeter, Wasps, Bath and Bristol, for this week’s camp.
“We had entry meetings and a little bit of movement exercise. Everyone is running around,” Mitchell said.