England have been dealth a huge blow after learning that centre Manu Tuilagi will miss the Six Nations opener against Scotland due to an ankle injury.
Tuilagi, 21, shone in England's surprise 38-21 win over New Zealand last autumn, scoring one try and creating two others and would have been almost certain to start against Scotland.
However, he should only miss one game after head coach Stuart Lancaster said he expected Tuilagi to be back in full training next Tuesday or Wednesday and therefore would be available for selection for the game against Ireland.
"Manu is a big loss- he was outstanding against New Zealand, but he missed the first two games of last year's Six Nation's because of an injury and it's an opportunity for someone else," Lancaster told the BBC.
"By the end of the week we expect Manu to be running fully and changing direction.
"He'll be training fully by Tuesday or Wednesday next week, but I'll need to make a call earlier in the week, he won't be training properly until at least Friday," Lancaster said.
Lancaster is already without fly-half Freddie Bruns, prop Alex Corbisiero and flankers Tom Johnson and Calum Clark for the entire tournament and Tuilagi's absence consequently means that the England coach has to find a new partner for Saracens' Brad Barritt.
"We have a pretty good idea of how we'll rejig the midfield, we have our thoughts," Lancaster said.
Subsequently the absence of fly-half Freddie Burns, who made a very impressive debut as a replacement against the All Blacks, means that Lancaster is left with a straight choice between Owen Farrell and Toby Flood.
The first round of the Six Nations will be played Saturday, February 2nd.
England's complete casualty list:
Calum Clark (flanker) - out of whole Six Nations
Tom Johnson (flanker) - out of whole Six Nations
Alex Corbisiero (prop) - out of whole Six Nations
Freddie Burns (fly-half) - will miss first two games
Manu Tuilagi (centre) - out for Scotland game at least
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