England captain Lewis Moody out for six weeks

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The Independent Online

Nick Easter is expected to captain England in their RBS 6 Nations opener against Wales after manager Martin Johnson was dealt another crushing injury blow.

Flanker Lewis Moody, skipper for this season's autumn Tests, is set to miss the first three Six Nations games because of knee ligament trouble.

Although Johnson has put a brave face on the inspirational Moody's absence, it follows injuries to fellow forwards Courtney Lawes and Tom Croft.

And that means Johnson losing almost half his first-choice pack as England prepare for an assault on Six Nations title glory that has eluded them since 2003.

Moody's anticipated six-week absence will sideline him from the appointments with Wales, Italy and France, although he should be available for England's final two Tests against Scotland on March 13 and Ireland the following weekend.

Northampton lock Lawes, who also has a knee ligament injury, is likely to miss the whole tournament, with Leicester flanker Croft (shoulder) battling to feature from its midway point.

Moody was hurt during his club Bath's Heineken Cup victory over Italian side Aironi last Saturday, limping off during the second half, with Bath confirming an injury to his medial collateral ligament.

The 32-year-old has won 66 caps and would have been a crucial part of England's armoury against Wales in Cardiff on February 4.

Harlequins number eight Easter though, is fully capable of taking up the leadership reins. He captained England to victory over Samoa at Twickenham two months ago.

England are set to name an injury replacement for Moody in their squad next Monday.

Contenders are likely to include Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw, Andy Saull and Phil Dowson, a quartet who were selected last week in the England Saxons group.

Johnson said: "It is always disappointing to lose a player and leader of Lewis' calibre.

"But as I have consistently said, good teams adapt to injuries, and that is what we intend to do.

"While this could still mean Lewis plays a role in the RBS 6 Nations, it does mean that another player gets the chance to step up and make it hard for him to get the shirt back."

Johnson will announce his captain in the week leading up to the Wales game, with Moody now remaining at Bath for his rehabilitation under close consultation from the England medical team.

Bath head coach Steve Meehan added: "Lewis took a knock to his knee at the weekend which is slightly more serious than first thought.

"It is frustrating for us to lose him at this stage in the season, but it does mean that other players in the squad get the opportunity to come on in his place and show us what they can do.

"We will of course make sure he receives the best medical attention to get him back on the field as, and when, he's ready.

"It's very disappointing. Any injury is unfortunate, but Lewis is pretty positive about things."

With Moody and Croft now absent, Johnson's back-row combination will take on an unexpected look against Wales.

Leeds Carnegie flanker Hendre Fourie would be a strong favourite to wear the number seven shirt, with either Joe Worsley or James Haskell the probable blindside flanker options.

Wales have also been hit by problems ahead of the tournament opener. Prop Gethin Jenkins is out of the whole competition because of a toe injury and scrum-half Richie Rees is banned until March 31.

Wales boss Warren Gatland has additionally seen Gavin Henson's Test comeback hopes put on hold by a calf muscle problem, and Gatland is anxiously awaiting news on tighthead prop Adam Jones, who suffered an elbow injury during Ospreys' Heineken Cup defeat against London Irish two days ago.

Jones was expected to undergo a scan today, amid initial unconfirmed reports that he could be out for up to eight weeks.

Gatland's injury woes showed no sign of ending when Cardiff Blues revealed that centre Tom Shanklin will be sidelined for three months and therefore ruled out of the whole Six Nations tournament.

The experienced Shanklin, who has won 70 caps and played throughout the recent autumn series, is to undergo knee surgery.

Blues rugby director David Young said: "Unfortunately, Tom has had a scan and needs another operation on that troublesome knee which will keep him out for three months.

"We sent him for a scan and the medics thought he needed an operation to sort the problem out. The recuperation period is 12 weeks minimum."

"He should be back by the end of March, beginning of April, and has to get fit, so he may feature in some of our games at the end of the season.

"Obviously, I am sure he wants to come back as soon as possible to stake a claim for the World Cup with Wales."