England’s preparations for their RBS Six Nations opener against Wales have been thrown into disarray after a further four players were all but ruled out of the Millennium Stadium showdown.
Centres Brad Barritt and Kyle Eastmond, lock Geoff Parling and flanker Tom Wood are set to miss the trip to Cardiff on Friday week, head coach Stuart Lancaster indicated at the official Championship launch in south west London.
Barritt and Parling could recover from their knee ligament strains in time to face Italy on February 14, but their hopes of featuring against Wales have been described as “very unlikely” by Lancaster.
The outlook on Wood and Eastmond is bleaker, however, with their respective ankle and shoulder injuries requiring further specialist assessment and they are likely to be unavailable until deeper into the tournament.
A lone positive note from a brutal final round of European club action was sounded by Luther Burrell’s ongoing recovery from concussion, with the centre on course to resume full training.
“It’s an opportunity - he says through gritted teeth! It was a tough weekend watching the Champions Cup games and you sit there with your fingers crossed,” said Lancaster.
“Internally we’re still confident that we’ll have a pretty strong team.”