England are reeling from the loss of Marcus Smith for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Italy because of a calf problem.
Smith suffered the injury at the squad’s training camp in Girona on Monday and England are waiting for a second opinion on the scan before confirming a return date, raising the possibility that he could miss additional matches.
The 24-year-old was in strong contention to start the Rome showdown at fly-half, competing with George Ford and Fin Smith for the jersey.
“He won’t make this weekend sadly,” assistant coach Kevin Sinfield told reporters.
“It is a calf injury. We got the scan report through but we are waiting to understand exactly what that means for us moving forward. He’s not fit for this weekend.
“It just happened in training, the early part of the session. Just one of those things. The boys have had two days off (for) recovery and Marcus being the bundle of energy that he is was doing his thing.
“Unfortunately these things happen. We are gutted for him because he’s been amazing to work with and we hope it will not be too long.”
Marcus Smith was hoping to step out of Owen Farrell’s shadow after his rival for the number 10 jersey ruled himself out of the Six Nations for mental wellbeing reasons.
Farrell was first choice in the position at the World Cup with Smith converted to full-back, either as a starter or impact replacement, to make room in the team for his attacking potency, while Ford provided playmaker cover.
Now Steve Borthwick must decide who to start at the Stadio Olimpico – 91-cap veteran Ford or the uncapped Fin Smith, a 21-year-old rookie who has been exceptional for Northampton this season.
“Marcus is a big loss. He’s an outstanding guy who I have absolutely loved working with and I have got a really good connection with,” Sinfield said.
“But what that does is provide opportunities for others. We have said it since I have been working with England that we are blessed with the 10s that we have got.”
Borthwick names his starting XV in Rome on Thursday.