LONDON • England have increasing fitness concerns before next month's Six Nations rugby championship. Almost half their pack are set to be worryingly short of match practice before the defending champions' opener against France on Feb 4 after Joe Marler became the squad's latest casualty.
It had been hoped the loosehead would recover swiftly from a lower leg strain. But a fracture has now been diagnosed and his club Harlequins said Marler will be sidelined for four to five weeks.
It means England are set to kick off at Twickenham without their two first-choice looseheads.
With Chris Robshaw, the Vunipola brothers and Manu Tuilagi already out injured, it has also emerged that the lock forward George Kruis will not play any club rugby before the France Test. James Haskell is also set to miss the Wasps' weekend fixture against Toulouse in Coventry.
Eddie Jones, who is scheduled to name his England squad on Jan 20, will have his fingers crossed his squad are not further depleted over the next few days.
Saracens had been hoping Kruis would be available to feature in their final pool game against Toulon next week but that prospect now appears remote.
Given England are due to spend most of the following week training in Portugal, it means the second-row, sidelined with a fractured cheekbone, could be picked against France even though he has not played a single minute of competitive rugby since Christmas Eve.
"He's going to be 100 per cent fit for the Six Nations but he's unlikely to play for us in the next two weeks," said Mark McCall, the club's director of rugby.
On the plus side, Kruis demonstrated his ability last autumn to bounce straight back into Test action, having missed a large chunk of club rugby in the weeks beforehand.
Haskell, though, has played only 35 seconds since June and again looks set to sit out his club's game this Saturday, having taken a blow to the head shortly after coming on as a replacement in Sunday's win over Leicester.
Jones is likely to hand a first Test start to Leicester's rookie prop Ellis Genge, 21.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS