Influential Owen Farrell has been retained as England’s captain for the Six Nations but there are several high-profile absentees from the 36-strong squad announced by Eddie Jones yesterday.
With the in-form Marcus Smith set to start at fly-half for England in their tournament opener away to Scotland on February 5, Farrell could be deployed as a centre rather than a No 10.
The 30-year-old Farrell, a veteran of 100 Tests, has been sidelined from all rugby since suffering an ankle injury during a Test against Australia at Twickenham in November.
But England coach Jones said he remained the “right man” to lead the team.
“Owen is captain because he has the respect of the team, he’s a winner and he drives the competitive spirit of the team,” he said. Courtney Lawes stood in as skipper for November’s victories over world champions South Africa and Tonga.
But Farrell, who had surgery, has been recalled by Jones and could now look to prove his fitness by playing for Saracens against London Irish on Sunday.
Asked if he would be happy to select Farrell on the back of just one Premiership match for the Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield, Jones replied: “We’ll just wait and see. He’s due to play this week and then he has another training week and then he will be eligible for selection and we will have to see where he’s up to.”
Uncapped Bath fly-half Orlando Bailey was included in the squad but experienced playmaker George Ford’s international exile continues despite an impressive start to the season with Premiership leaders Leicester.
Elliot Daly, Billy and Mako Vunipola and Sam Underhill, who were all, along with Ford, members of the England squad that reached the 2019 World Cup final, also remained out in the cold.
But Jones said all those omitted could fight their way back into World Cup contention.
“They’ve all got areas they need to work on in their games to come back into the team and they’ve got to play at a level where it makes me an idiot if I don’t pick them,” the veteran Australian coach explained.
Backs: Mark Atkinson (Gloucester), Orlando Bailey (Bath), Owen Farrell (Saracens, capt), Tommy Freeman (Northampton), George Furbank, Ollie Hassell-Collins (London Irish), Max Malins (Saracens), Joe Marchant (Harlequins), Jonny May (Gloucester), Luke Northmore (Harlequins), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Raffi Quirke (Sale), Harry Randall (Bristol), Henry Slade (Exeter), Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Freddie Steward (Leicester), Ben Youngs (Leicester)
Forwards: Alfie Barbeary (Wasps), Jamie Blamire (Newcastle), Ollie Chessum (Leicester), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), Tom Curry (Sale), Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins), Charlie Ewels (Bath), Ellis Genge (Leicester), Jamie George (Saracens), Joe Heyes (Leicester), Jonny Hill (Exeter), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Lewis Ludlam (Northampton), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Bevan Rodd (Sale), Sam Simmonds (Exeter), Kyle Sinckler (Bristol), Will Stuart (Bath)
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