Northampton lock Courtney Lawes will miss the first few weeks of England’s Six Nations Championship campaign because of an ankle injury.
25-year-old Lawes will undergo surgery on Monday.
Saints coach Jim Mallinder confirmed the news after Sunday’s 20-9 European Cup win over Ospreys in Swansea, suggesting that Lawes will miss both England’s Six Nations opener away to Wales in Cardiff on February 6 and their clash with Italy at Twickenham the following week.
Lawes’s absence means England will be without both of their first-choice locks since Wasps’ Joe Launchbury has been ruled out of the entire Championship after undergoing neck surgery.
Lawes has not played since before Christmas when he suffered the injury against Leicester.
“Courtney, unfortunately, has not recovered from his ankle injury,” said Mallinder.
“He will be going in for a little operation on Monday.
“He has got a little bit of bone that he just needs clearing out, so he is going to miss the first few weeks of the Six Nations, as well as missing next week [when Northampton face Racing Metro].”
“He would be expected to get back [playing] while the Six Nations is still going on.
“It is a blow for us because we haven’t got him for next week, and it is a blow for him and England because he is a key player.”
England coach Stuart Lancaster will announce his Six Nations squad on Wednesday.