LONDON (Reuters) – Co-captain Dylan Hartley and scrumhalf Danny Care have been left out of the England’s initial Six Nations championship squad as Eddie Jones started the long run-in to the World Cup by celebrating his shrinking injury list.
Hooker Hartley, who has 97 caps, lost his starting slot to Jamie George during the November internationals when England were hard-hit by injuries and has not played for the last three weeks because of a knee injury.
Hartley is replaced in the squad by Luke Cowan-Dickie, and though he will not feature in the opening game in Ireland on February 2, he could return later in the championship.
Props Mako Vunipola and Ellis Genge, second row Joe Launchbury, number eight Billy Vunipola and flanker Tom Curry all return from injury, while prop Dan Cole was recalled. Mike Brown, whose international future looked precarious after he did not feature in any of the November internationals, is included.
Jones also brought back Jack Clifford and Ollie Devoto, who last played in 2017 and 2016 respectively, but there was no place for former captain Chris Robshaw.
There are four uncapped players in the squad – Ollie Thorley Ben Earl, Dan Robson and Jack Singleton – all given the chance to stake a claim for the World Cup in Japan later this year.
The squad of 35 will head to Portugal for a training camp next week ahead of their opening game in Dublin but Hartley, regularly lauded by Jones for his off-pitch influence, will not be among them.
“We’ve taken a completely different approach to the camp this time as we are especially focused on the Ireland game and so are taking only players we think will be available,” Jones said.
“Dylan won’t be available at the outside until maybe Wales (England’s third game on Feb. 23) and it’s the same with Chris Robshaw, who might make France (Feb. 10)
England’s injury list was minimal this time, with only Hartley, Robshaw, Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph likely to have been pressing for inclusion.
“The great thing for this squad is that it’s the smallest unavailable list since 2016 so all these good players coming back creates good competition,” Jones said.
“We are very clear who are best players are but we want competition and in some places we have deliberately created competition.
“We need players who are at their absolute best, chomping at the bit and for that they need to be hungry.”
Certainly fitting that bill will be Wasps scrumhalf Robson, who was set to feature in November only to be ruled out for three months with a knee injury. “Danny’s been playing well for his club but we wanted to have a look at Robson,” said Jones, who has included only two scrumhalves in the squad with Ben Youngs the first choice.
“We wanted to look at that fast halfback at the end of games when defences are tired,” Jones said.
“One of the reasons we are taking only two halfbacks is we want those guys to have a lot of training time because of the way we play the game we need them to play a lot, to get them back into the England way of playing the game.”
After finishing fifth in last season’s Six Nations, their worst performance in 35 years, England face the toughest of starts away to grand slam champions Ireland.
“Ireland are the best side in the world and deserve all the praise they’ve been getting,” Jones said.
“They are a very well-coached and well-drilled side, they have a number of exceptional players and they have a very methodical game plan that maximises the strength of their team.”