Maro Itoje is a doubt for the start of England’s Six Nations campaign after Saracens confirmed the Lions lock fractured his jaw in the Aviva Premiership defeat by Harlequins on Sunday – potentially opening the door for a return to Eddie Jones’s squad for the Wasps forward James Haskell.
Itoje is understood to have undergone an operation on his jaw after scans revealed he fractured it in a collision with Harlequins full-back Mike Brown, his England colleague, in the 48th minute of the match.
Itoje will see a second specialist tomorrow after the swelling has eased to determine the length of his rehabilitation. It is thought that the fracture may not be too serious but, even if that is the case, the 23-year-old could be racing against time to prove his fitness for England’s opening game against Italy in Rome on Feb 4.
Anthony Watson, Itoje’s England team-mate, was ruled out for two months and missed the entire autumn Test campaign in 2016, when he sustained a similar injury during a national training camp in Brighton.
England are due to travel to Portugal for a warm-weather training camp in mid-January and, if Itoje is unable to take part, he would be struggling to be considered for selection for the Italy game.
The injury to Itoje, who was a nominee for World Rugby player of the year in Monte Carlo last week, also comes as a massive blow to Saracens, who have dropped to third place in the Premiership table after three successive league defeats.
Mark McCall’s side, who are also without England No 8 Billy Vunipola, who has been sidelined since September with a knee injury, face back-to-back Champions Cup matches against French powerhouse Clermont Auvergne in the next two weekends that will have a major impact on their hopes of reaching the knockout stages.
England at least have plenty of cover in the second row, with Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes both excelling during the three autumn Test victories over Argentina, Australia and Samoa, while Itoje was eased back into the side after undergoing a post-Lions conditioning programme and made his only start in the back row against Samoa.
Haskell could also come into the mix again if Itoje is sidelined after the Lions forward was left out of Jones’s squad for the autumn Test series.
Manu Tuilagi is another who could yet force his way into contention for the Six Nations squad, with the Leicester centre under consideration for his club this weekend after recovering from a knee injury he sustained in September.
“He will be involved in the next couple of weeks for sure,” said Matt O’Connor, Leicester’s director of rugby. “He will be playing before Christmas – it is just how we squeeze him into the 23.
“He is a different level. He is special. When I was here last time I thought he was the best 13 in the world. A fully fit Manu is the best 13 in the world – that is what we are going to try to get him back to.”
Meanwhile, Bath have been charged by Premiership Rugby after No 8 Taulupe Faletau was allowed to play for Wales against South Africa last weekend – outside of the World Rugby international window.
Premiership rules state that its clubs are only allowed to release players for Tests during the international window and Bath, who have seven days to appeal, may face a hefty fine for this breach.
Northampton Saints were fined £60,000 for releasing George North to play in a Test against Australia in 2013.