Six Nations: The Injury XV
The Six Nations kicks off this weekend with three huge games across Europe.
England enter the tournament as strong favourites despite a growing injury list. They're not the only team to struggle with fitness concerns, with Ireland and Wales also facing important omissions. This leads Sports Gazette to ask: just how good could an all-injured Six Nations XV be?
1. Gethin Jenkins, WALES
The 36-year-old Welsh loosehead could miss the entire Six Nations with a ruptured bicep muscle suffered in December. With 129 international caps under his belt, the experience of the veteran prop has proved a vital asset in recent seasons and his absence will put extra pressure on a team that has struggled for consistency since 2015.
2. Sean Cronin, IRELAND
Cronin suffered a grade-two hamstring tear in January that looks likely to rule him out for the entirety of the tournament. The 30-year-old hooker had established himself as a key impact player off the bench and useful cover for captain Rory Best. His absence paves the way for uncapped Niall Scannell to get his chance for Ireland.
3. WP Nel, SCOTLAND
The experienced Scottish tight-head was enjoying another excellent season for Edinburgh until a neck injury sidelined him last month. Further evaluation revealed the extent of the ailment, and Nel was forced to undergo surgery earlier this week that could leave him in doubt for the Lions tour of New Zealand this summer.
4. Luke Charteris, WALES
The unassuming Welsh lock has carved out an integral role for himself within the Welsh side but a fractured bone in his hand will rule him out of at least the first game on Sunday against Italy. The six-foot, nine-inch 33-year-old remains the record-holder for most tackles in a Six Nations game with a staggering 37 against Ireland in 2015, and Wales will be hoping his return to the engine room comes swiftly.
5. George Kruis, ENGLAND
It speaks volumes to the ability of Kruis that, even considering England's gluttonous second-row talents, his presence this weekend will be sorely missed. A knee ligament injury sustained in training on Tuesday has ruled him out of the French clash and could even see him miss the entire tournament, depending on the severity of the problem.
6. Chris Robshaw, ENGLAND
The renaissance of Chris Robshaw from World Cup scapegoat to world-class back-row operator has been a reflection of England's development under Eddie Jones. A shoulder injury suffered in January forced him into surgery however, and he now has a battle on his hands to secure a spot on the plane to New Zealand.
7. Dan Lydiate, WALES
Wales' back-row depth has been severely stretched in recent months, with injuries to Lydiate, Warburton and Faletau testing what was once one of the best units in the world. Lydiate in particular has been unlucky with ailments, and an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered during the autumn international series has ruled him out for the entire season.
8. Billy Vunipola, ENGLAND
Completing the all-injured forward pack is one of England's standout stars from the past twelve months - Billy Vunipola. The hulking number-eight is one of the most feared carriers in the game and although a knee injury has ruled him out of the Six Nations, the experienced 24-year-old looks set to be one of England's leaders for years to come.
9. Francois Trinh-Duc, FRANCE
The inclusion of the mercurial French half-back Francois Trinh-Duc at scrum-half may seem a bit like cheating, but given the lack of ailing out-and-out number nines we've gone with the talented playmaker. A skilled operator with ball in hand, the Toulon fly-half suffered a broken arm that he is yet to recover from and his loss could be crucial for a France side looking to get back to its brilliant best.
10. Johnny Sexton, IRELAND
The talismanic Irishman has made a reputation for himself as one of the best all-round fly-halves in world rugby, with talent, experience and nerves to boot. Over the last several months however, his rugby playing time has been hit by a litany of injuries, from a hamstring issue that affected his autumn appearances to a calf strain that he can't shake off for the Six Nations. His return is vital, not just for an Irish side looking to build on an impressive autumn but for a Lions side looking to launch a successful tour of New Zealand later this year.
11. Andrew Trimble, IRELAND
The 32-year-old Ulsterman has become a valuable member of Joe Schmidt's side, not just because of his footwork and speed but because of his increasing reputation as one of the world's best defenders on the wing. A groin issue has ruled him out of this weekend's opener with Scotland and although he's expected to return shortly thereafter, it speaks to his growing stature within the side that he will be sorely missed.
12. Wesley Fofana, FRANCE
English fans needn't have a particularly good memory to remember the havoc that Fofana can wreak on opposition defences. The strong and versatile back-line player has become one of the first names on 'Les Bleus' teamsheet but a ruptured achilles tendon has ruled him out of the entire Six Nations campaign.
13. Jared Payne, IRELAND
The Ireland and Ulster centre had been putting in some impressive performances in the autumn international series before a kidney issue ruled him out for at least three months in December. His absence will pave the way for an exciting partnership of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw in the centre but Schmidt will miss Payne's presence in the squad.
14. Anthony Watson, ENGLAND
Given his meteoric rise within the England side, it's hard to believe that Watson is still just 22 years old. He's had to endure a frustrating few months however, with a broken jaw suffered in England training ruling him out of the Autumn international series and now a strained hamstring likely to sideline him for at least the first two weeks of the Six Nations. In his absence, Jack Nowell and Jonny May have both impressed on the wings, so Watson will be keen to show off his brilliant skills on the international stage once again.
15. Joey Carbery, IRELAND
The 21 year old outside-half has been one of the most impressive breakout stars in world rugby in the past 12 months, forcing his way into the Leinster team and then playing a pivotal role in Ireland's upset of New Zealand in Autumn. Whilst more comfortable at 10, Carbery has shown he has the versatility to play full back too and only an injured ankle suffered in December has prevented him from battling for the starting fly-half jersey in Sexton's absence.
It's certainly a strong side with some experience, quality and talent throughout. The bench would also be strong, with the likes of Mako Vunipola (ENG), Peter O'Mahony (IRE) and Taulupe Faletau (WAL) all unable to crack the starting XV.
With any luck, many of these players will be back to feature for their teams at some point during the tournament, but for the time being you can't help but notice the level of talent that will be unable to pull on a jersey this weekend.