Easter backs England depth
Nick Easter insists England can still open their RBS 6 Nations campaign with victory over Wales despite a debilitating injury list.
Fly-half Owen Farrell is the latest player to have been ruled out of the entire Championship with a knee ligament strain, joining a host of absentees ahead of a seismic opener in Cardiff on Friday week.
With centres Brad Barritt, Kyle Eastmond and Luther Burrell and lock Geoff Parling also struggling - an update on the quartet is expected at Wednesday's tournament launch - England's preparations are in turmoil.
Easter, however, insists that while losing Farrell is a major setback, the Six Nations favourites must travel to the Millennium Stadium with belief they can topple Warren Gatland's side.
"Owen is one of the key leaders, a driving force of the attack and the gameplan. He has proved his status on the international stage and he will be a big loss," Easter said.
"Yes it's a challenge with the injuries, but we are very confident. We have to go to Cardiff like that.
"The strength in depth in rugby in this country is fantastic. We're equipped to deal with this situation.
"There are a number of guys who have been blooded by England in the last three years and the management are quite confident of those guys stepping up, which will have to be the case because of the injuries."
England currently have 12 players in the treatment room with Farrell, Ben Morgan and Joe Launchbury missing the entire Six Nations, a fate that could be shared by Manu Tuilagi.
Courtney Lawes will miss at least the first two games and there is genuine fear that Barritt, Parling and Tom Wood may face substantial lay-offs.
The final weekend of European club action has taken a terrible toll on England's squad in a World Cup year and Easter admits the modern game's injury count is constantly escalating.
"Injuries are becoming more regular and that's the nature of the sport. You are in the gym trying to get bigger, stronger, faster. That transfers on to the pitch," he said.
"That's why squads are getting bigger. Having shorter careers seems to be the logical route because of the way the game is going."
Easter has profited from the broken leg suffered by Morgan to end his three and a half year international exile as reward for a stellar season at Harlequins.
The 36-year-old cancelled a 12-day holiday in the Caribbean to join the England camp, believing as recently as two weeks ago that he had little chance of making the squad for the Six Nations.
Billy Vunipola is higher in the number eight pecking order, but Easter is determined to seize his chance.
"The intensity and training will step up over the next week and that's a chance for me to show what I'm about," Easter said.
"It's great to be back here, but I don't want to be holding tackle bags. I want to be getting selection and showing what I can do on the paddock in a white shirt again."