England have suffered a major blow ahead of their RBS 6 Nations campaign with the news that Northampton forward Courtney Lawes will miss the entire championship.
Lawes suffered a knee injury in Saturday's 27-16 Aviva Premiership defeat at Leicester, although coach Jim Mallinder was upbeat over the likely recovery time after the match.
But national team manager Martin Johnson's worst fears have been confirmed after medical examinations revealed ligament damage, pointing to a three-month lay-off.
A club spokesman said: "He's damaged a medial cruciate ligament and is expected to be out for around about three months.
"But we expect him to play before the end of the season."
Lawes made his England debut as a replacement for Louis Deacon in an 18-9 defeat to Australia in November 2009 but it was during last November's Investec Internationals that he truly established himself at international level.
He started all four games during the autumn series and played a starring role in the 35-18 win over Australia at Twickenham, which included supplying the pass from which club-mate Chris Ashton scored his memorable length-of-the-field breakaway try.
Lawes has made 11 appearances for the Saints this season, scoring one try in October's 37-10 win over Wasps.