Croft to miss Six Nations start

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LONDON, January 20- England will be without Tom Croft for at least their first two matches in this season's Six Nations after the injured flanker was ruled out for five to six weeks on Tuesday.The Leicester back-row suffered a knee injury during the Tigers 47-8 European Cup thrashing of Italian club Viadana on Saturday.

England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) have since confirmed Croft’s injury and he will miss the Six Nations opener against Wales at Twickenham on February 6 and the match away to Italy the following week.

He is also doubtful for the home fixture against reigning champions Ireland at Twickenham on February 27.

An RFU statement issued Tuesday said: "A scan has confirmed that Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers) sustained a grade two medial cruciate ligament injury to his left knee in the Heineken (European) Cup game against Viadana last weekend.

"He has now started his rehabilitation programme with a view to returning to action in five to six weeks.

"The England team medical staff will continue to work closely with Leicester Tigers during his recovery process."

Croft advanced his international career during last season’s Six Nations where he was a substitute in the first three games but started the final two, against France and Scotland.

The 24-year-old impressed sufficiently to be handed a late call-up for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa after Alan Quinlan was ruled out through suspension.

Croft seized his unexpected chance against the Springboks by scoring two tries in the first Test, a match the tourists lost 26-21 on their way to a 3-0 series defeat.

Earlier this season he suffered a six-week layoff because of a knee injury and the Viadana match was just his second game back.

Northampton’s Courtney Lawes will be aiming to replace Croft after being promoted to the senior squad ahead of the Six Nations while Harlequins fit-again back-row Nick Easter is also in contention.

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