Lancaster dealt triple injury blow as Croft, Youngs and Corbisiero could all be out for autumn Test series
00:05 GMT, 6 September 2012
England head coach Stuart Lancaster is facing the prospect of being without Tom Croft, Ben Youngs and Alex Corbisiero for the daunting autumn Test series at Twickenham.
The trio of leading players could struggle to regain full fitness by mid-November after injuries which have prevented them starting the season.
England take on Fiji, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand on successive Saturdays from November 10 to December 1.
Worry: Tom Croft could miss a trying Test series at Twickenham
Croft and Youngs, the Leicester flanker and scrum-half, have neck and knee injuries and their director of rugby Richard Cockerill said on Wednesday: 'They are doing well but it will be two months.'
The same verdict has been given by London Irish's director of rugby Brian Smith on Corbisiero, the country's premier loosehead prop, who needed surgery on a knee injury sustained on England's summer tour of South Africa.
Youngs was also injured on that trip when he hurt his shoulder in the second Test. Lancaster had hoped the 22-year-old would be fit by mid-October but it seems he will be out for longer.
Croft has not played since last April when he hurt his neck during the Aviva Premiership game against Harlequins at The Stoop.
However, the outlook for Northampton lock Courtney Lawes is thought to be more positive.
Lawes, 23, missed most of last season's Six Nations and England's summer tour with a shin injury, then damaged an elbow in pre-season training and needed surgery.
Him too: Alex Corbisiero (centre, white shirt) could also miss the matches
'He's a few weeks away yet,' said Northampton's director of rugby, Jim Mallinder.
Meanwhile, with the Lions tour of Australia still nine months away, the verbal sparring has begun after Warren Gatland lit the fuse on Tuesday.
Speaking at his unveiling as head coach, the Kiwi said the Lions should be prepared for a dirty tricks campaign from the host nation, orchestrated by John O'Neill – the notorious ARU chief executive.
The Wales coach suggested O'Neill has exerted a sly influence over the officiating of Australia matches, saying: 'They are masters at it and possibly the best one was John O'Neill, as a master of influence in certain things.
'I don't see any better example than how the (World Cup) quarter-final between South Africa and Austral ia last year was influenced. It was a masterstroke.
Headache: Head coach Stuart Lancaster (centre) could be without three vital players
'I'm not 100 per cent sure but I think that, after Ireland beat Australia in that pool game, certain complaints were made about the referee, subtly and tactfully, and I think that had an impact on the quarter-final (refereed by the same official from New Zealand, Bryce Lawrence).
'We've got to be aware about what sort of things are going to be done on and off the field.'
In response yesterday, O'Neill played down any underhand activity but said the ARU made 'enquiries about interpretations at the breakdown' following the defeat by Ireland.
The up-shot was a performance by Lawrence in the quarter-finals which led to South African fury about the leeway given to Australia flanker David Pocock at rucks.
And him! Ben Youngs is also a doubt for the match
'It's quite flattering for Warren to give us credit for influencing referees but the reality is we all know referees are beyond reproach,' said O'Neill.
Gatland also cited an issue from the 2001 Lions tour of Australia, when the ARU spent AU$100,000 (about 64,000) on merchandise which was handed out free to home fans, while supporters of the visitors were crammed into distant corners of the bigger stadiums.
He warned the 2013 tourists would be ready for 'an orchestrated campaign in Australia to build them up and potentially make things difficult for us'.
O'Neill added: 'The forthcoming Lions tour wouldn't be the same without a few theatrical distractions and the odd ambush.'