Injury troubles mounting up for Lancaster ahead of Six Nations

England head coach Stuart Lancaster.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster.
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Nobody said this coaching lark would be easy – but Stuart Lancaster would be forgiven for looking up to the heavens and asking for a break.

For the England head coach heads into the biggest year of his life, and potentially the most defining in the life span of rugby union in this country, facing an injury crisis of monumental proportions.

Just six days out from a Six Nations opener in the intimidating atmosphere of the Millennium Stadium, Lancaster has as many men injured as he has fit to face Wales.

What’s more, the majority of the injuries are long-standing ones.

In a World Cup year he hoped would be all about fine-tuning a structure, partnerships and a game plan, Lancaster is still fitting square pegs into round holes.

He could name an almost entire 15-man team of injuries but here is just a quick look at the 10 men considered first-team regulars who who have gone down injured over the last few months, and their prognosis.

Owen Farrell: the most experienced fly-half in England’s squad, suffered a left-knee ligament injury during Saracens’ European Champions Cup 18-6 defeat at Clermont Auvergne last Sunday and is out of the Six Nations.

Joe Launchbury: surgery on a neck injury last month has knocked the Wasps lock out of the tournament.

Ben Morgan: the man of the series in the QBE autumn internationals, had ankle surgery earlier this month after picking up the injury in Gloucester’s 24-23 victory against Saracens. Morgan is also out for the tournament.

Manu Tuilagi: England will miss the powerful presence of Leicester centre Tuilagi because of a groin problem he first suffered in October. Tuilagi has played just four England games in the last two years.

Brad Barritt: another centre but with better prospects of playing. Lancaster is keeping his fingers crossed that Barritt will recover from a foot operation in September and be available for selection.

Kyle Eastmond: definitely out of England’s opener against Wales after aggravating a shoulder problem during Bath’s 20-15 triumph over Glasgow.

Geoff Parling: the Stockton-on-Tees-born lock who is joining Exeter in the summer, damaged knee ligaments in a 26-7 defeat at Ulster last weekend and will miss at least half of the tournament.

Tom Wood: doubtful with an ankle injury suffered in Northampton’s defeat to Racing Metro last Saturday.

Luther Burrell: the Huddersfield-born centre suffered a concussion in Northampton’s 32-8 defeat to Racing Metro last Saturday but was expected to return to training yesterday.

David Wilson: the prop is battling a nerve problem in his neck.

With such a busy treatment table, it would appear England have a ready-made excuse for their return to the Millennium Stadium cauldron on Friday night.

Such a white-hot atmosphere is hard to manage at the best of times – see England’s shattering 30-3 defeat 23 months ago when the grand slam was on the line – but it will be even more difficult to negotiate next Friday.

But in a results-based business, and given England’s struggles against the best in the world in November against a backdrop of the countdown to the World Cup, there is no room for excuses.

Not that Lancaster is a man to hide behind such shortcomings.

One of the triumphs of his reign so far has been his bold approach in blooding untested players in the toughest of Test-match environments.

England’s squad depth has increased because of Lancaster’s belief that if you’re good enough, it does not matter how young or inexperienced you are. Warren Gatland, his opposite number in Cardiff, knows all too well that England will not be significantly weakened.

“It does not matter what team England put out, they are going to be strong and we saw that last summer, when they were able to put out a different team against the All Blacks and did exceptionally well,” said the Wales head coach.

“We had a lot of injuries last year and if you look at the 2014 Six Nations, England only made three changes, Ireland made four and we made 18.

“We are lucky this time around. The challenge for us is to make sure we don’t allow the injuries to become a distraction.”

Lancaster and England must do the same.