Marcus Smith has given England an injury scare on the eve of the Six Nations after being seen on crutches following a training session on Monday.
Despite struggling for starts under head coach Steve Borthwick, the fly-half had been expected to play a much greater role in the upcoming championship after Owen Farrell’s decision to temporarily step away from England duties.
England begin their Six Nations campaign against Italy in Rome on Saturday and Smith was in contention to start that game.
What we know about Marcus Smith’s injury so far
England are at a pre-Six Nations warm-weather training camp in Girona, Spain, where Smith pulled up while jogging during a morning session.
He was then sent for a scan on his leg later that afternoon to assess the severity of the injury.
England attack coach Richard Wigglesworth said Smith’s injury “wasn’t a big incident” but that he was unsure as to how long the Harlequins No 10 could be out for.
“I have heard nothing about what he has done. Hopefully it is very precautionary,” Wigglesworth said. “The medical staff here are generally like that. I have not been updated on that, since I have been back [from training on Monday] but if he is not [fit] it would definitely be a blow for us.
“It wasn’t a big incident, that’s why I was hoping it was nothing much. He was just jogging, it was never extensive, but he pulled up and happened to be right next to a physio when he did it by the sideline, so they just walked off after that.”
When England’s Six Nations team vs Italy is announced
England’s starting XV and replacements for their visit to Italy will be announced on Thursday 1 February.
If Smith were to miss that game, he would add to a long injury list for Borthwick, with Ollie Lawrence, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Manu Tuilagi, George Martin, Nick Isiekwe and uncapped centre Oscar Beard all already missing for the Rome fixture.
Alongside these absences, Tom Curry, Bevan Rodd and Jack van Poortvliet have been ruled out of the entire championship, alongside Farrell’s decision and Courtney Lawes and Ben Youngs’ decisions to retire from international duty.
Who could replace Marcus Smith against Italy
England have two other fly-halves available in their current Six Nations squad – veteran Sale No 10 George Ford and uncapped Northampton Saints youngster Fin Smith.
Ford, who has 91 caps, suffered medial ligament damage in his knee in early January and has been attempting to manage it while still playing.
He stopped kicking duties in Sale’s recent Champions Cup match against La Rochelle and was seen with heavy strapping on his knee but England appear convinced he is fit for the start of the tournament.
“He’s fully operational,” Wigglesworth said. “I spoke to him and [stopping kicking for Sale] was that just a bit of knee pain was affecting his kicking on the snap right at the very end. He’s done a load of work with Kev this week, and by all accounts he’s missed one [session] all week, so he’s fully operational.”
Meanwhile, any injury to namesake Marcus would put Fin Smith in line for his first England cap, potentially starting against Italy in order to protect Ford’s knee for later games.
The 21-year-old has impressed for Saints recently as they top the Gallagher Premiership.
“He’s got a winning mentality, a winning edge to him,” Wigglesworth said. “I really like that he’s driven that team forward at Northampton and he’s made a big difference to them.
“He’s a very impressive young man, Fin, in terms of how he has got good opinions on the attack, good solutions for people — ‘I’d like you to do this, are we thinking about this?’ — he’s proactive and already offering that [at 21]. I very much want him to do that.
“He has had a really good start, and is impressive. After meeting him, and training with him for a couple of weeks in World Cup training camp, that’s what I remember from him and he’s developed again and is playing really well. The best players are well rounded and absolutely defence is a big part of a No 10’s game. Fin definitely chucks himself in there.”
Marcus Smith also played at full-back at times for England during last year’s World Cup. His potential absence would likely clarify Borthwick’s thinking at No 15, with Freddie Steward, George Furbank and Tommy Freeman all able to play there from the current squad.