England's options in selecting an exciting new centre combination for the RBS Six Nations opener against Wales have been reduced by the withdrawal of Olly Barkley through injury.
Barkley has been ruled out of the clash with Wales at Twickenham on February 4 after sustaining a dislocated right thumb during Bath's 35-23 Heineken Cup defeat by Leinster on Sunday.
The 24-year-old's right hand is in a plaster cast and he will now visit a specialist to assess the damage.
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England head coach Andy Robinson said: "It's unfortu-nate for Olly, Bath and England because he's an important part of the squad."
Barkley had been widely tipped to start the Wales game at inside centre with the explosive Josh Lewsey alongside him in a dynamic new midfield.
England's alarming lack of creativity behind the scrum has been exposed in recent seasons and the BarkleyLewsey combination was seen as a possible solution.
Robinson still has plenty of cover available at inside centre with Mike Tindall, Stuart Abbott and Jamie Noon in his Six Nations squad but Barkley's loss will be keenly felt.
Meanwhile, Wasps No 8 Lawrence Dallaglio is desperate to complete his dramatic comeback for the world champions.
Dallaglio, who amassed 73 caps before announcing his international retirement 17 months ago, returned to England training at Loughborough yesterday.
The 33-year-old admits he is under no illusions that he will be an automatic selection for the opener against Wales.
He said: "I know as well as anyone the amount of hard work it's going to take to get back in the team and then to stay in it."
Dallaglio will faced increased competition for a place in the back row following the news Lewis Moody's nine-week suspension for fighting will now finish on Friday and not Saturday.
The change means Moody is available for Leicester's clash with Sale on Saturday, giving him a match in which to blow away the cobwebs before the Wales game.