There are eight uncapped players in England's Six Nations squad as coach Eddie Jones throws a few curve balls ahead of the defence of their title
England Six Nations Squad 2018
Eddie Jones has made seven personnel changes to his England starting team for the Six Nations match against Ireland at Twickenham. Dylan Hartley returns from injury to captain the side at hooker, with Jamie George dropping to the bench, while also in the front row Kyle Sinckler starts at tighthead in place of Dan Cole.
George Kruis partners Maro Itoje in the second row, with Joe Launchbury moving to the replacements’ bench, while James Haskell starts at openside and Sam Simmonds plays at No 8 following the injuries to Courtney Lawes and Nathan Hughes.
In the back-line, Owen Farrell moves to ten and will partner his Saracens team-mate Richard Wigglesworth at half-back. Jonathan Joseph returns at outside-centre with Ben Te’o moving inside to 12.
Don Armand is among the replacements as are half-backs Danny Care and George Ford.
UPDATED: England Team to play Ireland in Six Nations – Saturday 17 March
Watson; May, Joseph, Te’o, Daly; Farrell, Wigglesworth; Vunipola, Hartley (captain), Sinckler, Itoje, Kruis, Robshaw, Haskell, Simmonds.
Replacements: George, Marler, Cole, Launchbury, Armand, Care, Ford, Brown.
England Team to play France in Six Nations – Saturday 10 March
Watson; May, Te’o, Farrell (captain), Daly; Ford, Care; Vunipola, George, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Robshaw, Hughes.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Marler, Sinckler, Haskell, Simmonds, Wigglesworth, Joseph, Brown.
Related: Scotland 25-13 England match report
England Team to play Scotland in Six Nations – Saturday 24 February
Brown; Watson, Joseph, Farrell, May; Ford, Care; Vunipola, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Robshaw, Hughes.
Replacements: George, Marler, Williams, Kruis, Underhill, Wigglesworth, Te’o, Nowell
England Team to play Wales in Six Nations – Saturday 10 February
Brown; Watson, Joseph, Farrell, May; Ford, Care; Vunipola, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Robshaw, Simmonds.
Replacements: George, Hepburn, Williams, Kruis, Underhill, Wigglesworth, Te’o, Nowell
Related: England 12-6 Wales Match Report
England will be looking to continue the good start to their defence of the championship – check out the England Six Nations Fixtures.
Related: Six Nations TV Coverage
England Team to play Italy in Six Nations – Sunday 4 February
Brown; Watson, Te’o, Farrell, May; Ford, Youngs; Vunipola, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Robshaw, Simmonds
Replacements: George, Hepburn, Williams, Kruis, Underhill, Care, Joseph, Nowell
Related: Italy 15-46 England match report
Of the eight uncapped players in England’s initial 35-man squad for the Six Nations, Zach Mercer is the headline story. That’s because the Bath back-row has lost the ‘apprentice’ tag applied to him in the autumn and is set to make his Test debut amidst the absence of two established No 8s.
Billy Vunipola, who would vie with Kieran Read for the eight shirt in a World XV, is set to miss the whole tournament after breaking his arm, while back-up Nathan Hughes (knee) is likely to miss at least the first three rounds.
Sam Simmonds, who started at eight in England’s most recent outing, a 48-14 win over Samoa in November, should now get an opportunity to build on his outstanding form for Exeter this season. Mercer, the son of a Kiwi rugby league international, has captained England U20 and like Simmonds could also be deployed at flank forward.
The back-row selection is arguably the most intriguing part of an ever-changing English jigsaw, as injuries and suspensions bite. As well as Vunipola, Wasps’ Elliot Daly and Harlequins prop Joe Marler are others who would have been on duty for the opening match in Italy on Sunday 4 February.
Exeter centre Henry Slade, twice a starter in the autumn, injured a shoulder last weekend and didn’t travel to England’s training camp in Portugal. And Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler returned home after a possible hamstring strain prevented him training, with Bath’s Henry Thomas flying out to make up the numbers.
Such disruption is all par for the course and in most positions England coach Eddie Jones has copious options. One exception is at loosehead prop, where the unavailability of Marler, Ellis Genge, Matt Mullan and Beno Obano leave England looking worryingly fragile. Mako Vunipola might have to be wrapped in cotton wool.
Three of the remaining seven uncapped players are front-rowers, with Alec Hepburn, Lewis Boyce and Tom Dunn getting the call, and many observers will hope teenager Marcus Smith gets a run-out sooner than later; with injuries draining Quins’ resources, the fly-half has had to hold the fort for his club and has done so magnificently. He remains a likely squad player for Japan 2019.
At full-back, Harry Mallinder’s selection is another kick in the teeth for Saracens’ Alex Goode, who has been one of the country’s best players for at least three years. Mallinder’s defensive weaknesses would come under fierce scrutiny should he be pitched into championship battle.
More likely, Jones will try to keep changes to a minimum as he embarks on a year that also features a three-Test series in South Africa and a long-awaited clash with the All Blacks next autumn.
England finish the championship with a St Patrick’s Day showdown with Ireland – the only team to beat England during Jones’s reign. The Australian has already fired a shot. “Ireland are dominating European rugby at the moment. Their provincial sides are doing well, their national side has had great success,” Jones said.
“Everyone talks about their central contracting and how they have their players in fantastic condition. If you read most of the popular press, there’s no reason to turn up. But I think we have a point or two to prove.”
He goes into his third championship on the back of 22 wins from 23 matches and a run of 14 successive home victories – a run bettered only by Clive Woodward’s side from 1999-2003.
England Six Nations Squad 2018
Mike Brown (Harlequins, 64 caps)
Nathan Earle (Saracens, uncapped)
Harry Mallinder (Northampton, uncapped)
Jonny May (Leicester, 29 caps)
Denny Solomona (Sale, 2 caps)
Anthony Watson (Bath, 28 caps)
Danny Care (Harlequins, 76 caps)
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 53 caps)
George Ford (Leicester, 40 caps)
Jonathan Joseph (Bath, 35 caps)
Alex Lozowski (Saracens, 4 caps)
Jack Nowell (Exeter, 23 caps)
Henry Slade (Exeter, 10 caps)
Ben Te’o (Worcester, 8 caps)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, uncapped) *
Ben Youngs (Leicester, 73 caps)
Gary Graham (Newcastle, uncapped)
Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, 2 caps)
Maro Itoje (Saracens, 14 caps)
George Kruis (Saracens, 21 caps)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton, 61 caps)
Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 47 caps)
Zach Mercer (Bath, uncapped)
Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, 59 caps)
Sam Simmonds (Exeter, 3 caps)
Sam Underhill (Bath, 3 caps)
Lewis Boyce (Harlequins, uncapped)
Dan Cole (Leicester, 77 caps)
Tom Dunn (Bath, uncapped)
Jamie George (Saracens, 20 caps)
Dylan Hartley (Northampton, 80 caps)
Alec Hepburn (Exeter, uncapped)
Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, 8 caps)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 44 caps)
Harry Williams (Exeter, 5 caps)
* Apprentice player
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