England’s hopes of gatecrashing Ireland’s Grand Slam party in Dublin on Saturday have been hit by the loss of Ollie Chessum to an ankle problem.
Chessum sustained the injury in training on Tuesday and while no timeframe has been given for his return, he will definitely sit out the climax to the Guinness Six Nations on St Patrick’s weekend.
The 22-year-old nine-cap international has overshadowed more established second-row partner Maro Itoje throughout the tournament on account of his work rate and impact across the field.
But his breakthrough Six Nations is over in a significant setback for England, who will now choose between David Ribbans, Nick Isiekwe, George Martin and Jonny Hill for his replacement at the Aviva Stadium.
“Ollie will be a huge loss. He’s been great for us. We’ve played him in the second row, but he covers back row for us as well,” defence coach Kevin Sinfield said.
Chessum is the second starter from Saturday’s record-breaking 53-10 defeat by France to miss out against the world’s number one ranked team after centre Ollie Lawrence was struck down by hamstring damage.
Manu Tuilagi has completed a three-week suspension for dangerous play and offers a direct replacement for the hard-running Lawrence, but Steve Borthwick may instead overhaul the midfield completely.
For the first time in this Six Nations, Borthwick will approach Thursday’s team announcement with three fly-halves in contention after Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell and George Ford were retained in a reduced 30-man squad.
The challenge facing Borthwick is deciding whether to give the starting XV who collapsed before France – minus the injured Chessum and Lawrence – another chance or to make changes.
“It’s about getting the balance right between giving those guys another shot but also making sure that the selection is right for the opposition we’re playing against, which is what we’ve tried to do during the campaign,” Sinfield said.
“We’ve tried to pick a team that suits both how we want to play but also the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We will stay along that same theme, but the balance between the two will be crucial for us this weekend.”
England have been coming to terms with their heaviest defeat in the Championship’s 141-year history, with their first training session since leaking seven tries to France at Twickenham taking place on Tuesday.
They must regroup quickly because Ireland in Dublin is currently the game’s toughest assignment.
“It’s been tough. Any time you get 50 stuck on your chin it’s not nice,” said Sinfield, who was appointed Borthwick’s number two after Eddie Jones was sacked in December.
“You probably get a fair bit less sleep because you’re mulling things over trying to understand why, but we’ve worked incredibly hard over the last couple of days to try and fix some of the areas we fell short in – and there are quite a few.
“The players were hit pretty hard as you can expect from a result like that but we’ve stuck together and we fight through it as a team, squad and staff to ensure that we continue to move forward.
“This was never going to be a straight line and it was never going to be straightforward.
“When you ship 50 points and you’re in charge of the defence, it doesn’t sit well with you. I certainly don’t put this at the players’ door. We’re all in this together and we’ve got to work our way through it.
“For whatever reason we didn’t turn up on Saturday. It’s our jobs to fix it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“It shouldn’t have happened on Saturday but what’s done is done, we learn the lessons, pick the bones out of it and ensure we’re better this weekend.”