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England must cope without Cole

England's RBS 6 Nations hopes suffered a major blow on Sunday night when prop Dan Cole was ruled out of the rest of the tournament.

The British and Irish Lions tighthead is suffering from a bulging disc in his neck which is trapping a nerve and needs a period of rest.

That means the 26-year-old will miss England's final three matches against Ireland, Wales and Italy as they attempt to claim the Six Nations title for only the second time in more than a decade.

England are currently third in the standings with two points, two points behind leading sides Ireland - who they play at Twickenham on Saturday - and France.

England coach Stuart Lancaster admits it is "massively disappointing" to lose the Leicester forward - will have further specialist assessment on Tuesday evening - but also sees it as a chance for some other players to stake their claims.

He said: "It's massively disappointing for Dan, Leicester and England but the important thing is that this has been diagnosed and that Dan gets the appropriate rest and treatment.

"Our medics are working closely with Leicester's to come up with a programme that will ensure Dan returns in the best possible shape.

"In the meantime, it's great to have David Wilson back, as well as Henry Thomas who has trained well and came off the bench against Scotland and this will be an opportunity to develop experience in this area."

Cole, who has featured in all of England's Six Nations matches since 2010, was diagnosed with the problem after experiencing weakness during a gym session at St George's Park last week.

Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: "It's very disappointing for us and for England, and obviously for Dan, but his long-term fitness is more important. He'll have time to get over this issue and come back when the medical teams are satisfied with his progress."

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