England's summer tour plans have been dealt a major blow when World Cup prop Phil Vickery was ruled out of the three-Test trip to New Zealand and Australia.
Gloucester forward Vickery must undergo back surgery for the second time in under 18 months.
With Jonny Wilkinson and Lewis Moody likely to miss appointments with the All Blacks (twice) and Wallabies, Vickery's absence is another serious setback for head coach Sir Clive Woodward.
Vickery faces 12 weeks on the sidelines after a decision was taken for him to go under the knife this Friday in an attempt to rectify a bulging disc.
Vickery, capped 43 times and a Test Lion in Australia three years ago, missed the whole of last season's RBS 6 Nations Championship because he required back surgery - and this latest problem will inevitably raise questions about his long-term future.
He has averaged just seven Tests a year since making his England debut in 1998, which underlines the extent of injury troubles that have pursued him.
The decision to operate was taken following consultation between Vickery, England team doctor Simon Kemp and his Gloucester counterpart Rob McKay.
The emphasis now will be to see him regain full fitness in time for next season, and Woodward has no option but to plough on without his front-row warrior who would have been a key performer down under this summer.
In 28-year-old Vickery's absence, Leicester prop Julian White has a golden opportunity to try and make the number three jersey all his own.
"We have all had lengthy discussions with Phil, England's doctor Simon Kemp and our club doctor Rob McKay - and everyone agreed it was best to have the operation as soon as possible," said Gloucester rugby director Nigel Melville.
"It is a big blow for us, because we will miss Phil for the rest of the season - and it is a blow for England because he won't be available for the summer matches.
"But it means the problem with his back can be addressed and he can return to pre-season training in August."
Without Vickery, it also means 38-year-old Andy Deacon will continue instead of him for Gloucester in his final season before retirement.
Since England's stunning World Cup success in Australia last November, Woodward has seen Martin Johnson, Neil Back, Kyran Bracken and Jason Leonard announce their retirements from international rugby - while Wilkinson and Moody have hardly played at all since returning home.
The summer trip will represent a huge challenge for Woodward and his players, especially because things did not go to plan during this season's RBS 6 Nations.
England finished a disappointing third behind champions France and Triple Crown winners Ireland, and there can be little doubt they will find themselves in an unfamiliar guise of tackling New Zealand and Australia in the position of underdogs.
The 2017 RBS 6 Nations was watched by record numbers of fans
29 March 2017, 12:25pm
After an enthralling RBS 6 Nations Championship of twists, turns, and no small amount of drama on the last day, figures show the RBS 6 Nations is going from strength to strength, year on year, with no sign of slowing down.