Stuart Lancaster announced his England Elite and Saxons squads today, bringing in nine new faces to the Elite squad with a further seven fresh players in the Saxons.
As expected, Tom Youngs, James Haskell, Joe Launchbury and Freddie Burns are brought up from the Saxons after impressing during the Autumn Internationals. Tom Palmer, Phil Dowson and Jordan Turner-Hall drop down to the Saxons in their place, while Rob Webber drops out altogether after his injury nightmare.
David Wilson and Mako Vunipola come in at prop after featuring throughout the Autumn Internationals, Wilson effectively been a part of the main squad ever since Matt Stevens retired but it is now official. Vunipola comes in as the extra man with the squad expanding to 33 to accommodate the new 23 man Test squads.
Callum Clark also returns to the Elite squad for the first time since his 32 week ban for breaking Rob Hawkinsâ€™ elbow. Interestingly it is Mouritz Botha, who drops to the Saxons, that he replaces, with Stuart Lancaster commenting on Clarkâ€™s versatility as a major reason for his inclusion:
“I know what he can offer. In addition to his desire to win, his versatility in the second row is an option for us. He is incredibly athletic and very good in the contact areas.”
In the backs, as well as Burns coming in for Turner-Hall, his Gloucester teammate Billy Twelvetrees is also promoted from the Saxons with Anthony Allen going the other way. David Strettle, who swaps his place in the Saxons with Charlie Sharples, joins them in the backline.
On the inclusion of Twelvetrees and Strettle, Lancaster said:
“It was a tight call between Billy Twelvetrees and Anthony Allen but we wanted to get a chance to work with Billy, the opportunity for David Strettle has come alongside a move to the left wing. His form has been outstanding but Mike Brown was fantastic there against the All Blacks.”
It had been expected that it would be Christian Wade of Wasps rather than Strettle who would come in for Sharples, but it seems that time spent on the left wing for Saracens has paid off for Strettle, though expect Lancaster to continue to persevere with Foden and Brown on the left hand side for a good while yet.
Tom Croft stays in the squad despite having only played 50 minutes for Leicester since his return from injury, however Billy Vunipola will train with the Elite squad in his place in the lead up to the Six Nations having just been promoted to the Saxons himself.
Thomas Waldrom and Tom Johnson managed to stave off the advances of Matt Kvesic from the Saxons, while Lee Dickson retains his place ahead of Joe Simpson.
As well as Vunipola, the Saxons see a number of high profile changes, with rugby league converts Kyle Eastmond and Joel Tompkins the most high profile.
Saracens openside Will Fraser also comes, while Leicesterâ€™s Ed Slater, Gloucesterâ€™s Shaun Knight and Wasps Elliot Daly are other newcomers.
Carl Fearns, James Gaskell, Jamie Gibson, Miles Benjamin and Rob Miller all drop out altogether.
England Elite Player Squad:
C Clark (Northampton Saints), A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), T Croft (Leicester Tigers), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), J Haskell (London Wasps), T Johnson (Exeter Chiefs), J Launchbury (London Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton Saints), J Marler (Harlequins), B Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), G Parling (Leicester Tigers), C Robshaw (Harlequins), M Vunipola (Saracens), T Waldrom (Leicester Tigers), D Wilson (Bath Rugby), T Wood (Northampton Saints), T Youngs (Leicester Tigers).
C Ashton (Saracens), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins), F Burns (Gloucester Rugby), D Care (Harlequins), L Dickson (Northampton Saints), O Farrell (Saracens), T Flood (Leicester Tigers), B Foden (Northampton Saints), A Goode (Saracens), J Joseph (London Irish), D Strettle (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers).
England Saxons Squad:
M Botha (Saracens), N Catt (Bath Rugby), L Deacon (Leicester Tigers), P Doran Jones (Northampton Saints), P Dowson (Northampton Saints), W Fraser (Saracens), J Gray (Harlequins), G Kitchener (Leicester Tigers), S Knight (Gloucester Rugby), M Kvesic (Worcester Warriors), M Mullan (Worcester Warriors), D Paice (London Irish), T Palmer (London Wasps), G Robson (Harlequins), E Slater (Leicester Tigers), H Thomas (Sale Sharks), B Vunipola (London Wasps).
N Abendanon (Bath Rugby), A Allen (Leicester Tigers), T Biggs (Bath Rugby), E Daly (London Wasps), K Eastmond (Bath Rugby), G Ford (Leicester Tigers), G Lowe (Harlequins), J May (Gloucester Rugby), U Monye (Harlequins), J Simpson (London Wasps), C Sharples (Gloucester Rugby), J Tomkins (Saracens), J Turner-Hall (Harlequins), C Wade (London Wasps), R Wigglesworth (Saracens).