England coach Stuart Lancaster has been dealt an early blow ahead of the autumn Test series as he will be without key duo Dan Cole and Mako Vunipola, reports the Daily Mail.
Vunipola of Saracens is unlikely to recover in time from a dislocated knee suffered during last season's Heineken Cup final, and Leicester's Cole is also in rehabilitation after he had neck surgery.
The absence of the pair leaves Lancaster short of options when they host the giants of the Southern Hemisphere with matches against Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Samoa in November.
Lancaster is due to name his elite playing squad for the four-Test campaign in October.
Speaking at the launch of the new Aviva Premiership season, Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill feels there is no reason to rush Cole back in to the game.
He told reporters: "It’s far more important that he gets his neck absolutely right rather than come back a bit early and have issues with it.
"We will listen to the specialists to make sure that when he comes back, he is good to go. It would be nice to have him back within the 12-week timescale but if it’s a month later, two months later or he doesn’t play until April, it is what it is.
"Stuart Lancaster is very sensible about it. Coley will be ready to play when the specialist deems he is ready and not before."
Whilst the injuries will give the England coach a slight selection headache - particularly as Cole is the country's premier tighthead - it does give other squad players a good opportunity to seize a place in the team.
Cole's spot is likely to be contested by Bath's David Wilson and Henry Thomas of Sale Sharks - both of whom will be eager to impress with a World Cup in England not far away.
Meanwhile, the prognosis of Vunipola - whose injury kept him out of the New Zealand tour - is also bleak, and the 23-year old is not expected to return for some time.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: "Mako has an injury from the European final. He’ll be out for a while — until November possibly. But he has no chance for the autumn internationals."
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