England's RBS 6 Nations hopes have suffered a huge blow before 2010 has ended with the news that influential flanker Tom Croft is likely to miss the entire tournament.
The 25-year-old injured his shoulder in the final match of the autumn internationals against South Africa and the diagnosis is worse than first feared.
The Leicester flanker does not require surgery but Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill insists Croft is unlikely to be available to team manager Martin Johnson.
Leeds’ Hendre Fourie or Stade Francais’ James Haskell could now get their chances and Cockerill is desperately disappointed for his player.
“He is seeing a specialist and he will be out for another six to eight weeks – his shoulder is intact but it was a pretty traumatic blow to it,” said Cockerill.
“The cartilage is all in one piece, which is good news. But all of the nerves around it have to recover.
“It will be six weeks at best but eight weeks is more realistic. The fracture is healing well but there is trauma to the soft tissue around it.”