Tom Curry will miss the entire Six Nations and most likely the rest of the season after Sale revealed he must undergo surgery to repair a hip injury.
Curry has been troubled by the issue since playing a full part in helping England finish third in the recent World Cup and a visit to a specialist confirmed that a clear out of the joint is the only option.
The 25-year-old flanker, an automatic pick for England when fit, will undergo the operation the week after next.
Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson said: “Tom has been back down to London to have further extensive x-rays under movement with a different consultant and this is the best thing for him in the short term.”
The setback continues a turbulent period in Curry’s career that saw him miss the Six Nations because of a hamstring injury and then sit out the build-up to the World Cup through ankle ligament damage.
A red card for a dangerous tackle against Argentina in the tournament opener resulted in a two-match ban, before his appearance in the semi-final against South Africa was followed by the fallout to his allegation that he had been racially abused by Bongi Mbonambi. He earned his 50th cap in the bronze final.
Now the all-action back row is facing a lengthy spell of rehabilitation, forcing England and Sale to look for alternatives to fill the void created in their back rows.
“I know it sounds long-term – the season – but it’s not,” Sanderson said.
“He’s still a young lad and it’s the best thing for him in the short-term to ensure he’s able to be more robust moving forward and to train and progress his game the way he wants to.
“The level of stiffness hadn’t flagged up to this degree until this point in his career.
“There has always been hip stiffness there and an element of managing his load because he will just empty the tank and this time he was doing the same thing but just not recovering and wasn’t able to do it again and again.
“The red flags were out that maybe there was something deeper here and apparently there is.
“I’m sure there will be ebbs and flows over the next four or five months and I hope to be part of that journey with him as we get him back to where he needs to be.
“There was no chink in the invincible armour that is Tom Curry. It was like, ‘right, let’s get it done. Let’s go’.”