Six Nations news: England name eight uncapped players in squad
What's the story?
England head coach Eddie Jones has announced his squad for the Six Nations tournament and it includes a whopping eight uncapped players - and one Scotland-born forward.
With 13 players ruled out due to injury or suspension, Jones’ hand was forced into giving the youngsters an opportunity to perform on the international stage – though he believes the squad he has assembled has the necessary quality to compete.
"I am expecting a really positive training camp in Portugal and while we have a few players unavailable through injury or suspension, it has provided an opportunity for others who will be desperate to be involved in the Italy game," Jones said.
Backs Nathan Earle, Harry Mallinder and Marcus Smith will all be hoping to impress Jones on the trip to Portugal; whilst uncapped forwards include Zach Mercer, Lewis Boyce, Tom Dunn, Alec Hepburn and Gary Graham.
Graham, who turns out for Newcastle Falcons, has previously represented Scotland at youth international level, but qualifies for England on residency. It's thought that Jones was hoping to steal a march on Scotland by committing the flanker to England during this tournament.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend described the timing of Graham’s call-up as ‘unfortunate’, but stated that he had never previously spoken to Graham.
"There would be no reason to speak to me. I had never involved him in a camp and obviously if England invite you to train, he is available now for England on residency."
One man tipped to make England’s squad was Ben Vellacott, the Gloucester number 9. He too has represented Scotland across age-group levels and qualifies for the nation through his mother.
Although he didn’t make the main squad, he was named in the Elite Player Squad by Eddie Jones – hinting at his future involvement with the national team of his birth.
England’s squad in full
Mike Brown (Harlequins), Nathan Earle (Saracens), Harry Mallinder (Northampton), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Denny Solomona (Sale Sharks), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Danny Care (Harlequins), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Alex Lozowski (Saracens), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Henry Slade (Exeter), Ben Te'o (Worcester) Marcus Smith (Harlequins) (Apprentice Player), Ben Youngs (Leicester)
Gary Graham (Newcastle), Nick Isiekwe (Saracens), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Launchbury (Wasps)Zach Mercer (Bath), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Sam Simmonds (Exeter), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), Lewis Boyce (Harlequins), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Tom Dunn (Bath), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)
England begin their campaign against Italy in Rome on February 4, but first, the squad will head to Portugal for a training camp.
Jones has spoken of having selected the 'strongest available squad' for the opening match but did not give any guarantees that any of the debutants would go on to become England internationals - or that any of the men they've replaced will be able to walk straight back into the side.
As Jones confirmed a contract extension this week, the news may also hint at some long-term planning from England's head coach. He put pen to paper on an additional two years with the RFU earlier this week and the inclusion of a few fresh faces may point towards some succession planning after the 2019 World Cup.
Realistically, the game against Italy is one that England expect to win. The Italians are traditionally the weakest team in the Six Nations, and it should prove the ideal step-up in competition for some of the debutants.