England captain Sarah Hunter ruled out of Six Nations decider against France | Rugby union

England have been dealt a significant blow as they seek to secure another grand slam this weekend with their captain, Sarah Hunter, ruled out of the Six Nations decider against France on Saturday.

The No 8 sustained a rib injury last weekend in the 69-0 victory against Ireland and will miss the showdown with France in Bayonne. In a will to the influence of Hunter, who has amassed 134 caps for her country, she will join the squad in France this week to end her support behind the scenes.

Poppy Cleall, who was named captain against Italy when Hunter was selected on the bench, could fill the void on Saturday if she recovers from a calf problem.

England head to Bayonne as favorites for the title, having been crowned champions in the previous three years. In 2019 and 2020 England also clinched the grand slam, while last year the competition’s format was changed to a round robin because of the pandemic.

Simon Middleton’s side edged their last Six Nations trip to France 19-13 in February 2020 but Les Bleus have swept all before them this year and are on the hunt for the grand slam.

Meanwhile the England men’s captain, Courtney Lawes, remains in the dark over whether he will play again this season. Lawes sustained a gruesome dislocated thumb this month and there is no timeframe over whether he will feature before the end of the season or be fit for England’s tour of Australia.

The Northampton coach, Phil Dowson, offered a more optimistic assessment but described Lawes as “Frankenstein’s monster” given the nature of the injury.

“The scan revealed there was nothing broken but obviously it was an open dislocation so he’s been stitched up with a number of stitches,” said Dowson, whose side occupies the fourth and final playoff spot and host third-place Harlequins on Friday. “It’s pretty early days and there’s nothing broken.

There’s ligament damage, tendon damage, bits and pieces like that … he looks a bit like Frankenstein’s monster! So a weird injury but he’s not too bad. It would be a massive lift for us if he’s back because he’s a very good player and that helps us. ”

Steve Diamond has revealed that Worcester and Bath have failed in their attempts to bring forward their final-round Premiership match. The 12th-placed Warriors are due to host the bottom side, Bath, on June 4 in what could have been a thrilling relegation shootout but is now in effect a dead rubber with no side being demoted.

All the more so because Worcester are not scheduled to have a match in May at all if they do not reach the Premiership Cup final and Bath are set for three empty weekends next month with both sides out of Europe. In order to bring the fixture forward, however, Diamond revealed that all 13 clubs had to unanimously agree and that one unnamed club voted against the other 12.

The United Rugby Championship chief executive, Martin Anayi, has expressed an interest in establishing a women’s league to run alongside the men’s competition. Citing the Premier 15s in England, Anayi said: “We’re just exploring how that comes about now. There’s definitely a will – we’d love to see a women’s URC. “

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