England captain Owen Farrell has been ruled out of the entire Six Nations championship after suffering a second serious ankle injury in the latest blow to head coach Eddie Jones’s preparations for the competition that begins next week.

Farrell had surgery in November on an ankle he injured playing against Australia then injured the other ankle in training as he prepared to return to action with his club Saracens last week.

Saracens confirmed on Wednesday that Farrell would have an operation later in the day and would be out of action for eight to 10 weeks.

“It’s a massive blow for him personally, and for the team but it’s obviously an opportunity for other guys to step up into leadership roles, for other players to play for that 12 jumper,” Jones said.

“In today’s rugby having your best team on the field is a rare occurrence. We’re pretty used to it. Last night we had to leave our hotel [in Brighton] because of a fire outside, so the boys are adaptable, they know how to get on with it and there’s an opportunity there to build a bit more leadership depth.”

Farrell had been set to start at inside centre, with Marcus Smith at flyhalf, when England open their campaign away to Scotland on Feb. 5. Jones has recalled specialist flyhalf George Ford to the squad but, with Manu Tuilagi also out injured, he will need to come up with a yet another new plan for his midfield.

Jones said on Wednesday that regular wing Jonny May is also likely to need surgery on a knee injury that will probably rule him out of the entire championship, while key prop Joe Marler was withdrawn from the squad on Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19 for the second time.

Courtney Lawes, who captained the team in Farrell’s absence in the November internationals, is going through return to play protocols after suffering a head knock, but is expected to be fit to play at Murrayfield.

England finished fifth in last year’s competition having won it in 2020.

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