England scrum-half Alex Mitchell ruled out of Six Nations clash with Scotland

Alex Mitchell of England releases a pass during a training session at Twickenham
Alex Mitchell started England's first two Six Nations matches at scrum-half - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

England’s preparations for next Saturday’s Six Nations encounter with Scotland have been dealt a blow with scrum-half Alex Mitchell ruled out with a knee injury.

Mitchell, who has started both of England’s victories in the championship thus far, limped out of an open training session at Twickenham last Friday and preliminary assessments have forced him to miss next weekend’s Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield, with Bristol’s Harry Randall called up as scrum-half cover.

Danny Care, the replacement scrum-half in victories over Italy and Wales, is likely to win his 99th cap in the Scottish capital, with Bath’s Ben Spencer the other No 9 in the squad. Spencer, with four caps, has not played for England since his appearance from the bench in the 2019 World Cup final defeat to South Africa, while Randall has not represented his country since the loss to Ireland in the 2022 Six Nations.

The extent of the damage to Mitchell’s knee is not known at this stage and the 26-year-old will undergo further examinations this week, the Rugby Football Union confirmed on Sunday.

In a midfield boost, however, Bath centre Ollie Lawrence has finished his period of rehabilitation and joins the main squad in place of Bath wing Will Muir in the only other change to the group named by head coach Steve Borthwick last week. Although as of yet unconfirmed, Muir is expected to link up with the England A squad to take on Portugal at Welford Road on Sunday, the group from which Randall has been promoted.

Marcus Smith will continue his rehabilitation this week, too, although England have put no time-frame on his potential return to the main group. Borthwick, therefore, will travel to Scotland without what many believed to be his first-choice half-back pairing ahead of the Six Nations: Mitchell and Marcus Smith.

Sale Sharks pair Luke Cowan-Dickie and Manu Tuilagi, as well as Leicester Tigers forward George Martin, all feature as they continue to work towards a return from injury absences. One or all of Cowan-Dickie, Martin, Tuilagi and Lawrence could return to the matchday 23 for the clash with Scotland, as Borthwick looks to add more ballast. Should Tuilagi or Lawrence - or both - return to England’s midfield, then Fraser Dingwall and Henry Slade will be under pressure for their spots. All of Martin, Maro Itoje and Ollie Chessum have the ability to play blindside, although incumbent Ethan Roots has enjoyed a solid first two caps in this year’s Six Nations.

This year’s championship is looking as if it might come too soon for Jack van Poortvliet, however, who was England’s first-choice scrum-half in last year’s Six Nations and the World Cup warm-ups until his ankle injury in the victory over Wales at Twickenham in August. The Leicester scrum-half’s return is not far away, however.

“Jack’s progressing well and should be available, just not for the Cup,” said Dan McKellar, Leicester head coach, after the Tigers’ Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final victory over Ealing Trailfinders. “We’ll keep working hard with them in the background and get them available as quickly as possible.”

Borthwick’s 36-player squad assembled at their Pennyhill Park base in Surrey on Sunday to prepare for a fixture that England has not won since 2020, losing their last three encounters with Gregor Townsend’s side. After the Calcutta Cup, England host Ireland at Twickenham before travelling to Lyon in the final round of the Six Nations.

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