England v France – 4 debutants included in travelling party, Chris Ashton & Ben Youngs omitted

Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs were the most high profile omissions as Stuart Lancaster named a 26 man squad to travel to Paris for England’s opening Six Nations encounter, on Saturday against France.

The touring party contains four uncapped backs, Northampton Saints’ centre Luther Burrell, Bath fly half George Ford, Exeter Chiefs’ wing Jack Nowell, and Bath flyer Anthony Watson.

Indeed it is the form of the Exeter Chief, Nowell, that persuaded Lancaster to finally cast Ashton aside, despite a rise in form, after he was sorely tempted to do so during the autumn internationals. Lancaster explained that Nowell’s rise was just too difficult to ignore, saying:

“We have been pleased with the form of Chris recently. However, Jack has made great progress on the right wing and has also delivered in big games for Exeter Chiefs and we feel it is the right time to look at another option in that position.”

“Chris remains an important member of the squad and I am sure he will be working hard to regain that position during the course of the Six Nations.”

It is likely that Nowell will be paired with Gloucester’s Jonny May on the other wing, May will be winning only his second cap after coming off the bench for his debut in Argentina.

They will have the more experienced Mike Brown between them at full back though, while in the centres Luther Burrell will likely make his debut in the unfamiliar position of outside centre, with Billy Twelvetrees inside him.

Nowell and Burrell seem likely to be the only two uncapped players to make their debuts though, as despite travelling with the party George Ford and Anthony Watson are not expected to make the final 23.

That decision represents a bit of a risk of Lancaster though, who will have Owen Farrell as his only fly half in the 23, though Alex Goode will likely be on the bench and spent his early years at ten, while Billy Twelvetrees can also shuffle across.

Brad Barritt’s return from injury is likely to see him take a place on the bench with his defensive nous providing cover should Burrell find himself struggling with the demands of tracking the likes of Wesley Fofana.

The decision to oust Ben Youngs at scrum half comes as a surprise to many, however Danny Care’s outstanding form for Harlequins means that he is almost certain to start, with the autumn incumbent, Lee Dickson, likely to be on the bench. As with Ashton, Lancaster explained that the omission of Youngs was simply down to the brilliance of the other man:

“Competition at scrum half has been particularly tight and Danny’s form leading into the Six Nations has been excellent and he merits his inclusion. Ben misses out this time but he is a quality player and I am sure he will respond in the same way Danny did at the start of the year.”

In the forwards decision appeared to be far easier for Lancaster, with the only real decision coming at loosehead prop, where he had to decide whether to use the talents of Mako Vunipola from the start or from the bench.

It seems as though he has opted for a bench spot for Vunipola, with Joe Marler starting, while the rest of the pack is to be as you were from the autumn, with Dylan Hartley at hooker alongside Dan Cole, and Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes continuing their partnership in the second row, with Dave Attwood on the bench.

The back row will see Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood paired again, with Billy Vunipola likely to remain in the eight shirt with Ben Morgan on the bench. Tom Youngs will cover hooker, while Henry Thomas steps into the injured Dave Wilson’s 18 shirt, and Matt Mullan travels as cover in the prop department.

Joining Youngs and Ashton in their weekend away from international duty will be Tom Johnson, Matt Kvesic, Ed Slater, Rob Webber, Stephen Myler, and Richard Wigglesworth, while Bath’s Kyle Eastmond will join up with the England Saxons ahead of their game against Scotland A, something that Lancaster hopes will add to the young centre’s experience:

“Kyle has been superb in training and, in the same way that Anthony Watson played for the Saxons last week, we feel that he will benefit from more senior international experience.”

What do you think of the probable England XV – and is the omission of Ashton & Youngs the right call? Let us know via the comment box below or via Twitter on @FifteenRugbyXV

Probable England XV:

15 Mike Brown 14 Jack Nowell 13 Luther Burrell 12 Billy Twelvetrees 11 Jonny May 10 Owen Farrell 9 Danny Care; 1 Joe Marler 2 Dylan Hartley 3 Dan Cole 4 Joe Launchbury 5 Courtney Lawes 6 Tom Wood 7 Chris Robshaw (c) 8 Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs 17 Mako Vunipola 18 Henry Thomas 19 Dave Attwood 20 Ben Morgan 21 Alex Goode 22 Brad Barritt.

England Squad to travel to France:

Forwards: David Attwood (Bath Rugby) 
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers) 
Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints) 
Joe Launchbury (London Wasps) 
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints) 
Joe Marler (Harlequins) 
Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby) 
Matt Mullan (London Wasps) 
Chris Robshaw (Harlequins) 
Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks) 
Billy Vunipola (Saracens) 
Mako Vunipola (Saracens) 
Tom Wood (Northampton Saints) 
Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

Backs: Brad Barritt (Saracens) 
Mike Brown (Harlequins) 
Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints) 
Danny Care (Harlequins) 
Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints) 
Owen Farrell (Saracens) 
George Ford (Bath Rugby) 
Alex Goode (Saracens) 
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby) 
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs) 
Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby) 
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby).

Players released back to clubs:

Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby) (to the England Saxons)

Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs) Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby) Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers) Rob Webber (Bath Rugby) Chris Ashton (Saracens) Stephen Myler (Northampton Saints) Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens) Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

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