England have been battling a number of injury issues heading into the autumn internationals and their hopes of starting the Test window well have taken another blow today, as Courtney Lawes has had to leave the squad’s training camp in Portugal and return to England.

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The second row came into the training camp with a slight back injury and has now left the camp to see a specialist back in England, although it is hoped he will join back up with the squad in Portugal next week.

According to Steve Borthwick, England’s forwards coach, Lawes is still in contention for the opening match of the autumn internationals against South Africa next Saturday.

“Lawes will return to England today for specialist treatment on a pre-existing back injury.”

“He is expected to return to Portugal early next week. He has taken part in modified training this week.”

England are stretched thin at lock with injuries to Joe Launchbury and Nick Isiekwe, whilst Maro Itoje’s impressive performances on the flank and the injuries to back rowers Chris Robshaw, Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes could have seen him deployed at six, bringing some much-needed experience to what will likely be a new-look loose forward trio.

If Lawes can prove his fitness upon his return to Portugal next week, he will be in contention to pack down with Itoje or George Kruis in the second row, with the trio hot favourites to all feature in England’s 23 against the Springboks, if not the XV.

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The Northampton Saints forward had enjoyed a good start to the season with his club side and recently signed a new two-year contract that will keep him at Franklin’s Gardens until 2020.

England’s other options at lock in their 36-man squad are the Bath pairing of Charlie Ewels and Elliot Stooke.

Watch: Lawrence Dallaglio discusses England’s back row options, as well as the omission of Danny Cipriani.

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