England handed injury boost as Smith, Mitchell near return

England are optimistic Marcus Smith will be back in the mix for their Six Nations clash against Ireland on March 9 and are hopeful Alex Mitchell will yet play a part in this year's championship.

England were handed their first defeat in this year's Championship against Scotland on Saturday, but they will be boosted by the injury news around their two half-backs.

Smith has played no part so far this year after limping out of training with a calf injury days before England's opener against Italy. George Ford has started in all three contests in his place, with Fin Smith deputy.

Meanwhile, Mitchell started England's first two matches against Italy and Wales, but missed the Scotland defeat with a knee injury. Danny Care started at Murrayfield with Ben Spencer among the replacements.

"I'm very hopeful that Marcus will be available for selection, for this latter part of the tournament," England head coach Steve Borthwick said. "We've had positive news on Alex Mitchell's injury too, so hopefully he will feature in the latter part of the tournament too. Whether that's the next game or the last one, I'm not sure.

"Alex will come in on Wednesday and continue his rehab. We'll have a good look at where he is."

England will face a tough test against Ireland, who are two wins away from completing a second straight Grand Slam having earned comfortable victories over France, Italy and Wales in their opening three matches.