England head coach Eddie Jones has surprised many people by naming SIX uncapped players in his Guinness Six Nations squad. But the Australian believes he has selected a “good balance” of “experience and up-and-coming” talent for this year’s competition, which runs 5 February – 19 March.
England kick-off their title-quest away to arch-rivals Scotland at Murrayfield on the opening Saturday of competition (4.45pm) with new names in Orlando Bailey (Bath), Alfie Barbeary (Wasps), Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers), Tommy Freeman (Northampton), Ollie Hassell-Collins (London Irish) and Luke Northmore (Harlequins).
Barbeary’s international call-up, in particular, shows that Jones wants form players for his extended 36-man squad. The 21-year-old Wasps back row has been in blistering form this season with four tries in seven games for his club since returning from injury. There’s also great opportunities for blossoming stars Hassell-Collins, 23, and fly-half Bailey, 20, both of whom have been playing well for their respective clubs this season.
Barbeary has converted from a hooker and is benefiting from his most consistent run of games, with his early career having been blighted by injury.
"He [Alfie] feels his best position is in the back row,” revealed Jones, in today’s press conference.
“We agree and we are looking forward to seeing how quickly he can move forward into Test rugby.
"He has an extraordinary ability to break tackles and to carry the ball forward in close contact.
“Alfie hasn't been picked on the back of his last game, he's been picked on the back of what we've seen over the last two seasons.”
Jones’ large squad will meet in Brighton next Monday, 24th January, for an intensive five-day training camp ahead of this year’s competition. But noticeably England will be without the Vunipola brothers, Mako and Billy, George Ford, Elliot Daly and Sam Underhill because of form or fitness concerns.
And experienced campaigner Manu Tuilagi has, perhaps surprisingly, been left out despite being close to return from injury. Tuilagi is currently out with a hamstring injury suffered in the win over South Africa last autumn.
“He's had a wee setback,” revealed Jones. “We'll just have to wait and see where he's up to. He'll need to get some good training form and play a few games.'
He added: “This Six Nations is the fourth last campaign we have before the World Cup in 2023 so it's an important opportunity for us to keep building the team.
“We're looking forward to integrating some new young players into the squad. We've only got one thing in mind and that's firstly the Six Nations and then the World Cup after that.
“They (the uncapped players) are in the squad because we feel they can make a contribution to the team. There is no reason why they can't.
“They're all good young players who have showed enough at club level to suggest they can do it at Test level. We're looking forward to seeing how quickly they adapt.
“It's a new England side and we've moved on from the last Six Nations.”
Owen Farrell, who has 100 caps, has been confirmed as England’s captain despite having not played since November with an ankle injury, while Jack Nowell also makes a welcome return to Jones’ side.
Ben Youngs could become England men’s most-capped player during the tournament.
The scrum-half, who made his debut in March 2010, is two caps behind Jason Leonard (114 caps).
“Selecting this squad has been a difficult task, we’ve got plenty of good young players coming through and some of our more experienced are rediscovering their best form,” reflected Jones on his squad.
“We think this 36 for the first training week reflects a good balance of that experience and up-and-coming talent.
“In Brighton we’ll focus on getting the fundamentals of our game in play right and developing the cohesion of the team.
“The Six Nations is going to be the most competitive we’ve ever seen. All the countries performed well in the autumn, so we need to be at our best and improve with every game.”
England finished a disappointing fifth place in last year’s Six Nations, but a winning start in their Calcutta Cup curtain-raiser against Scotland should give Jones’ side the confidence to challenge for the title. Defeat and England will be questioning whether they have the credentials for the job.
Scotland v England - Saturday, February 5 (4.45pm kick-off)
Italy v England - Sunday, February 13 (3pm)
England v Wales - Saturday, February 26 (4.45pm)
England v Ireland - Saturday, March 12 (4.45pm)
France v England - Saturday, March 19 (8pm)
England’s 36-man squad
Alfie Barbeary (Wasps, uncapped)
Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons, 5 caps)
Ollie Chessum, Leicester Tigers, uncapped)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 31 caps)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 36 caps)
Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins, 4 caps)
Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 26 caps)
Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 31 caps)
Jamie George (Saracens, 61 caps)
Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)
Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, 12 caps)
Maro Itoje (Saracens, 51 caps)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 90 caps)
Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 10 caps)
Joe Marler (Harlequins, 74 caps)
Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 2 caps)
Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 9 caps)
Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 47 caps)
Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 15 caps)
Mark Atkinson (Gloucester Rugby, 1 cap)
Orlando Bailey (Bath Rugby, uncapped)
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 94 caps)
Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 5 caps)
Ollie Hassell-Collins (London Irish, uncapped)
Max Malins (Saracens, 10 caps)
Joe Marchant (Harlequins, 7 caps)
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 69 caps)
Luke Northmore (Harlequins, uncapped)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 34 caps)
Raffi Quirke (Sale Sharks, 2 caps)
Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, 2 caps)
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 43 caps)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 5 caps)
Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 112 caps)
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