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Joe Marler uncertainty deepens the loosehead crisis for England

By PA
Harlequins' Joe Marler receives treatment last Saturday at Twickenham (Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

The arm injury suffered by Harlequins prop Joe Marler is being assessed by specialists amid front row concerns for England ahead of the Guinness Six Nations. Marler’s fellow loosehead props Ellis Genge, Bevan Rodd, Mako Vunipola and Val Rapava-Ruskin are all currently on the sidelines.

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Quins are still awaiting a full medical verdict on Marler, who went off during the Gallagher Premiership victory over Gloucester at Twickenham on Saturday, and the issues surrounding all five props have left Steve Borthwick with a potential major headache just a month before England’s Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome.

The head coach’s problems include a four-match ban being imposed on Saracens’ Vunipola, who was sent off for a dangerous tackle against Premiership opponents Newcastle.

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Sam Warburton on Leinster and Jacques Nienaber

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Sam Warburton on Leinster and Jacques Nienaber

Although he will be available if required for the Six Nations, experienced campaigner Vunipola cannot play again until after Saracens’ Premiership appointment with Exeter, which is only a week before the Italy clash.

Vunipola missed out on the Rugby World Cup in France, with Borthwick choosing Genge, Marler and Rodd to fill three loosehead slots. Genge, an England captaincy contender following Owen Farrell’s decision to miss the Six Nations, last featured for his club Bristol on December 2. He has been sidelined due to a hamstring injury.

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Sale forward Rodd is out for the rest of this season after undergoing toe surgery and Gloucester’s Rapava-Ruskin, who was part of England’s World Cup training squad last year, is another long-term absentee following a knee operation.

Borthwick will announce his Six Nations squad shortly, with prop resources seemingly being stretched. On 88 times-capped Marler, Harlequins rugby director Billy Millard said: “We had three big injuries in the first half to three very influential and key decision-makers on the pitch (Marler, Dino Lamb and Stephan Lewies).

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“To be totally honest, they are still seeing specialists. Some of them have turned out alright, but I’m still not 100 per cent clear on the three. We are still waiting for total clarity. It’s his [Marler’s] arm. They are getting MRIs and specialists are looking at it and until I am 100 per cent clear I wouldn’t want to speculate.

“God love him, he battled on for a long time, but we have got specialists looking at him as we speak. I doubt very much he will be available for selection (against Newcastle on Friday). Fingers crossed, it is only a short-term one. Joe is Joe. He is big for us in so many ways. Hopefully, it is not a long one for him.”

On a positive note, Genge’s situation appears to be improving, with Bristol rugby director Pat Lam stating: “He is back running now, so he is on track. He is certainly going to make the Six Nations, whether he makes the start… the most important thing is that he gets back to playing.”

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