Joe Marler has ruled himself out of England's entire Six Nations title defence in order to be with his family during the coronavirus pandemic.
Marler has withdrawn three days after being named in Eddie Jones' 28-man squad, leaving Ellis Genge as the only capped loosehead prop for the opener against Scotland on February 6th.
And, in another significant blow to England, in-form Wasps secondrow Joe Launchbury will miss the first three rounds because of a broken leg. The gaps in the squad have been filled by Wasps prop Tom West and Bath lock Charlie Ewels.
“Always grateful for the opportunity so not an easy decision, but want to do right by my family in these crazy times and won’t be meeting up with the squad for this tournament. Look forward to watching the team rip in. Go well Rose x,” Marler said on Twitter.
Marler chose not to tour Australia in 2016 following a turbulent season and two years later he announced his international retirement, only to reverse the decision ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
His absence means Genge will start the Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham with the uncapped Ben Obano set to make his debut off the bench, unless another rookie in West makes a major impression on Jones over the next fortnight.
England have been exposed in the number one jersey by Mako Vunipola’s Achilles injury which saw the Lions loosehead omitted from the squad.
With Marler and Vunipola unavailable, the loss of another veteran will hit hard with Launchbury not expected back until the France clash on March 13th.
Launchbury's fibia stress fracture is cruel timing given that last autumn he had re-established himself in the secondrow alongside Maro Itoje following a resurgence that has continued into the current campaign.
The 29-year-old has elevated his game to a new level to propel himself into Lions contention this summer, but his chances to impress Warren Gatland have been severely curtailed.
“We were on an artificial surface the other day for the first time and whether that has aggravated it slightly . . . Joe spoke to us after that,” Wasps head coach Lee Blackett said.
“We wanted to scan it and make sure it wasn’t serious, but it’s come back like this. We fully expect him to be out for up to six weeks.
"He will stay with us and our medics and we'll try our best to get him back for the last couple of games of the Six Nations, that's our aim for Joe."
West joins Wasps colleague Paolo Odogwu in England's squad on the day the explosive 23-year-old outside back signed a new club contract.
Eight weeks ago Blackett was explaining to Odogwu what he needed to do to get more game time in the Gallagher Premiership. Now he is closing in on a first cap.
“Paolo’s played the majority of his rugby on the wing, but we’ve recently been playing him at 13 and the reason is his big X-factor on the ball,” Blackett said.
“He’s dangerous, he’s a threat, he’s just an explosion of a ball of energy. You can see it in his carrying, you can see the explosion when he’s accelerating into contact.
“He’s one of those guys you just wouldn’t want to tackle — he’s fairly unique in that. I don’t think his defence gets enough credit, he’s a good tackler and he’s really good over the ball.
“He’s definitely one of the best in our backline, if not the squad, as a jackaler. There are parts of his game he needs to work on and he knows that.”