- Marcus Smith has been ruled out of England’s Six Nations opener against Italy
- Alex Mitchell has been unable to take part in training because of a leg wound
- England boss Steve Borthwick has already lost services of a raft of other backs
England’s pre-Six Nations injury crisis escalated on Tuesday as Marcus Smith was ruled out of their opener against Italy in Rome and Alex Mitchell emerged as another back-line doubt.
Harlequins fly-half Smith limped out of training on Monday and was on crutches when he arrived back at the team hotel here in northern Spain. At first, head coach Steve Borthwick and his assistants hoped it was a false alarm, but that hope faded when a scan revealed calf damage.
Meanwhile, Mitchell of Northampton, who became England’s first-choice scrum-half at the World Cup, was unable to take part in training for a second consecutive day. It is understood that he came into camp with a leg wound which has become infected.
While he is not yet out of the clash with the Azzurri, his participation is under threat.
Borthwick has already lost the services of former captain Owen Farrell and a raft of other leading Red Rose backs, including Manu Tuilagi, Ollie Lawrence, Anthony Watson and Jack van Poortvliet.
Marcus Smith has been ruled out of England’s Six Nations opener against Italy on Saturday
The fly-half left Monday’s training on crutches with a calf injury and awaits further assessment
Now, he must decide whether to promote Danny Care or the recalled Ben Spencer at scrum-half, while the fly-half dilemma involves the experienced George Ford and the uncapped but highly regarded Fin Smith — another of the sizeable contingent from Northampton, the Premiership leaders.
Asked for an update about Marcus Smith, who was a strong contender to start at 10 in the Italian capital, skills coach Kevin Sinfield said: ‘He won’t make this weekend sadly. It is a calf injury. We got the scan report but we’re waiting for a second opinion. We will know more then.’
It appears as if Smith was the victim of an innocuous training-ground mishap. Attack coach Richard Wigglesworth suggested the playmaker was jogging when he hurt himself and Sinfield added: ‘It was just in training, in the early part of the session. It’s just one of those things.
‘The boys have had two days off and Marcus — being the bundle of energy that he is — was doing his thing. Unfortunately, these things happen. We are gutted for him and we hope it won’t be too long.’
England will not make a decision on sending Smith home or summoning another fly-half as cover until they have received a second opinion on the state of the stricken prodigy’s ankle.
But the fact they have requested a further assessment would suggest that the injury could be significant — and may keep him out for more than just the opening game.
Scrum-half Alex Mitchell has been unable to take part in training because of a leg wound
Fin Smith (left) could be handed the No 10 shirt in Rome in the absence of Marcus Smith
After returning from Rome, England take on Wales at Twickenham on February 10.
‘He’s a big loss,’ said Sinfield. ‘But what that does is provide opportunities for others. Fin Smith has been in camp before and he is a young gun who has been in top, top form.
‘Fin has a real maturity about him and his game management which shows he is a very special talent. He’s going to be a fantastic Test player.’
When asked if Fin Smith, 21, could be handed the 10 shirt, rather than eased in off the bench, the answer was unequivocal. ‘Yes, he is ready to start,’ said Sinfield.