Courtney Lawes, one of England’s key forwards, will miss the start of the SIX Nations Championship after he undergoes surgery on an injured ankle on Monday.
Northampton rugby director Jim Mallinder said the 25-year-old Saints lock was set to miss the “first few weeks” of the tournament, which could mean Lawes being sidelined not just for England’s opening game with Wales on 6 February but also the Italy match on 14 February.
It is a blow for England to lose their 36-times capped powerhouse, as they are already without Wasps lock Joe Launchbury for the whole tournament as he continues his rehabilitation from neck surgery.
England coach Stuart Lancaster has made a number of changes to his team ahead of the third and final Test against New Zealand at the Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, on Saturday.
Most notably was the decision to move Manu Tuilagi’s back to midfield, making his transition to a Test wing a very shortlived affair.
Tuilagi, who caused trouble for New Zealand from his preferred centre position in the first Test in Auckland, was largely anonymous on the right wing for the second Test in Dunedin last week.
He will be joined in midfield by his first Test centre partner Kyle Eastmond.
It has been a fantastic Six Nations and one that had a fairytale ending as Ireland handed Brian O’Driscoll the perfect retirement present by beating France to win the title.
The nail-biting victory in Paris meant Ireland took the championship ahead of England on points difference.
The two teams have been the form sides in the competition and although a few French and Welsh players showed well, it is the top two who naturally provide the bulk of my Team of the Tournament for 2014.
Courtney Lawes was on Tuesday included in England’s 23-man squad for Saturday’s Twickenham Test against world champions New Zealand as coach Stuart Lancaster promised to meet the All Blacks’ challenge “head-on”.
England pair Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes are doubts for the November Tests after suffering knee injuries in Northampton’s defeat by Saracens.