Sam Underhill out for England’s Six Nations openers against Ireland and France

SAM UNDERHILL is likely to miss England's crunch Six Nations openers against Ireland and France.

Bath's superb openside suffered ankle ligament damage in their Premiership win over Leicester Tigers and will be out for at least six weeks.

 Sam Underhill is out for England's first two Six Nations openers

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Sam Underhill is out for England's first two Six Nations openers
 Underhill was superb for England in the Autumn internationals and put his best foot forward for a World Cup place

Getty – Contributor
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Underhill was superb for England in the Autumn internationals and put his best foot forward for a World Cup place

The 22-year-old is being sent to see a specialist this week to determine the full damage, with England's mammoth first game in Dublin on February 2 – and then at home to France the following Sunday.

Bath announced: "Underhill sustained ligament damage to his ankle and further detail around his expected return will be provided after his specialist review."

It is a huge blow for Red Rose boss Eddie Jones, but the silver lining is that Tom Curry, who Underhill replaced in the autumn, has made his return from a similar problem at Sale Sharks.

Curry also signed a new deal at the AJ Bell yesterday, keeping him at the club until 2023.

Across the rest of the back-row England could have Chris Robshaw back for the Six Nations, but he is unlikely to play again before boss Jones picks his squad on January 17.

Paul Gustard, Robshaw's boss at Harlequins and the ex Red Rose defence coach, said: "Chris has had a degenerative knee over a period of time, and it’s taken a bit longer than anticipated.

"It’s a small setback, small procedure with him. We expect him to be back in two weeks. They had a little look at it again, and it’s all good.

"He was running again today, he will start his rugby integration over the next 10 to 14 days and we anticipate him being back playing in two to three weeks.

 Robshaw missed all of England's autumn series

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Robshaw missed all of England's autumn series
 Chris Robshaw could make his Quins return this month after a knee problem

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Chris Robshaw could make his Quins return this month after a knee problem

"Chris operates at a level that he can flick a switch, he’s made enough tackles and got his head over the ball enough in his life that this setback will do him good, it’ll be good for us and good for England too hopefully.

"For us, he needs to play to get himself in a situation where he can offer himself the opportunity to play for England. If they think he’s right for them, he’s right for them.

"He’s got 60 caps, 250 games for his club, he doesn’t have a big injury history in terms of long periods out of the game."

Gustard also defended Quins hooker Dave Ward after the "Gob-Gate" Twickenham storm in which he was accused of spitting on Wasps flanker Thomas Young.

 Dave Ward was accused of spitting on Wasps flanker Thomas Young by fans

BT Sport
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Dave Ward was accused of spitting on Wasps flanker Thomas Young by fans

Ward was also sin-binned for treading on Young's ankle and then suffered the shame of being slapped with a one-week ban by his club, but cleared of spitting despite the social media mob lobbing the book at him.

Gustard added: "He was convicted before he even had a chance to say anything. Before the game was over people were saying he spat and stamped on someone.

"There is no evidence of him spitting on anybody. He says he absolutely didn't spit, so you either question his integrity, or ask him what did he do?

"If you have evidence that he is lying, prove it. In our country you are innocent until proven guilty.

 Quins boss Paul Gustard cleared his player of spitting, but banned him for treading on Youngs' ankle

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Quins boss Paul Gustard cleared his player of spitting, but banned him for treading on Youngs' ankle

"But not in this case, he was found guilty by 5.30pm for spitting, which he didn't do, otherwise he would have been cited. Just like he would have been cited if it was a stamp.

"I feel for him, because he has been accused, but on what grounds and what evidence?

"And it wasn't a stamp, which is why he didn't get red carded, but it is not acceptable and there is no need for it – it's pathetic and why I banned him.

"I don't want that in our club. I don't coach it condone it or accept it. The players don't accept it either. Even if you are just trying to irritate or annoy somebody.

"In reality, it was much of nothing, my thinking is there is no need for it and no place."

England forward Joe Marler retires from international rugby just a year before World Cup

SAM UNDERHILL is likely to miss England's crunch Six Nations openers against Ireland and France.