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Courtney Lawes and Jonny Hill ruled out of England’s Six Nations opener

England’s troubled build-up to the Guinness Six Nations has deteriorated further after forwards Courtney Lawes and Jonny Hill were ruled out of Saturday’s opener against Scotland.

Lawes has failed to pass the return to play protocols for concussion in time for the Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield, while Hill is still struggling with a stress fracture to his lower leg.

Losing Lawes is a bitter blow for England as the Northampton flanker was set to deputise as captain for Owen Farrell, who will miss the entire Championship because of ankle surgery.

Until he was concussed – his last match was for Saints against Ulster on January 16 – the 32-year-old had produced the best rugby of his career over the previous six months.

He was a popular replacement for Farrell as skipper during a successful autumn and a youthful team that is in transition can ill afford to lose his 93 caps of experience for a tricky fixture in Edinburgh.

A stress fracture has prevented Hill from playing since Exeter faced Harlequins on January 8 but England were insistent as recently as Tuesday afternoon that he and Lawes were still in contention – despite their failure to train since first arriving into camp eight days earlier.

Eddie Jones has retained 16 forwards in a squad of 29 that will step up preparations for Scotland and names his team on Thursday morning.

England have now lost three of their first-choice back five forwards with flanker Sam Underhill missing from the Six Nations squad altogether because of his own concussion issues.

Tom Curry is the favourite to captain England against Scotland
Tom Curry is the favourite to captain England against Scotland (Adam Davy/PA)

Wings Anthony Watson and Jonny May have been ruled out of the whole competition by knee injuries, while Manu Tuilagi has had his comeback for Sale delayed due to a hamstring problem.

Lawes will remain with the squad to continue his concussion protocols and attention will now turn to who leads England in his absence.

Tom Curry, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ellis Genge are the vice captains with Curry the favourite to take charge.

“Eddie’s got a good leadership team in place. Tom leads by example and with the intensity he trains at,” forwards coach Matt Proudfoot said.

“Each one of the young guys who support Courtney have their own speciality in how they’re leading.”

England boss Eddie Jones has seen several players ruled out by England

England boss Eddie Jones has seen several players ruled out by England (Andrew Matthews/PA)

England received some positive news after Joe Marler came through Tuesday’s critical practise session having spent the last week in self-isolation because of Covid-19.

Marler is likely to provide bench cover for Genge against the Scots, although centre Joe Marchant is still quarantining due to coronavirus.

“Joe will be OK for Saturday. He trained flat out today. I had a scrummaging session with Joe and he’s looking good,” Proudfoot said.

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