Joe Launchbury will start England’s Six Nations opener against France on Saturday after it was confirmed George Kruis will miss the game after suffering a knee ligament injury which places any participation in the tournament in serious doubt.

The Saracens lock will see a specialist on Thursday and, while the Rugby Football Union has not put a time frame on the injury, Eddie Jones has been forced to rip up his plans to pair Kruis and Courtney Lawes in the second row against France. He has called on Joe Launchbury to take the place of Kruis and has kept Maro Itoje at blindside flanker to deputise for the injured Chris Robshaw.

In total there are five changes to the starting XV that defeated Australia at the end of last year to complete an unbeaten 2016. Elliot Daly starts on the left wing with Jonny May installed on the right. Joe Marler fills the void at loosehead, despite being diagnosed with a broken leg only three weeks ago.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the specialist’s prognosis is but we’re not ruling him [Kruis] out of the Six Nations at this stage,” said Jones in a brief RFU statement.

It is a major blow for Kruis, who made a remarkably swift return from ankle surgery to play in the second half of England’s autumn campaign and had recently recovered from a broken cheekbone. He is a commanding presence in England’s lineout and has started all the Tests under Jones for which he has been available.

Kruis suffered the knee injury in a training session on Tuesday described by James Haskell as “super intense” in which Jonny May required stitches after a bang of heads. Kruis’s injury also comes just a few days after Anthony Watson was ruled out of the France game with a hamstring problem sustained in a sprint session and a couple of months after the intensity of England’s training camp in Brighton was questioned after Watson, Sam Jones and Jack Nowell all picked up injuries. Despite the criticism Jones has been determined to stick to his training methods but the latest in a line of setbacks is untimely.

Daly starts ahead of Nowell, who missed Tuesday’s training sessions due to personal reasons. He returned home and was only back in camp on Thursday. It will be Daly’s third start on the wing and offers him the chance to atone for the red card he was shown during the last of his eight caps against Argentina in November.

“We’ve been able to select a very strong and experienced team to play against France and we are excited to get the tournament underway,” said Jones. “There’s a great rivalry between the countries so we’re looking forward to a great occasion playing against one of England’s oldest foes.”

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