Stuart Lancaster has named a 20-man England training squad to prepare for the forthcoming fixture against the Barbarians and the tour of New Zealand.
The squad is selected from the Aviva Premiership clubs without further fixtures this season, the first of many concessions that the England camp have had to make due to scheduling clashes with the clubs.
The Aviva Premiership semi finals are this weekend, and include Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints, Saracens, and Harlequins, while London Wasps must also complete their two-leg play off against Stade Francais for next yearâ€™s European Rugby Championship.
Bath, Northampton Saints, and Saracens all also have European commitments, Bath and Saints play in the Amlin Cup Final on the 23rd May, while Saracens play Toulon in the Heineken Cup final on the 24th.
Two of the Aviva Premiership semi finalists will compete in the final on the 31st May and will therefore miss the opening Test of the New Zealand tour.
As a result, Lancaster has had to widen his pool somewhat to cover what will be sizeable absences for that opening Test, as there will for the Barbarians fixture, which falls the day after the Premiership final.
What that means though is Lancaster has been able to select an incrtedibly exiting 20-man group for this training period at the Lensbury Club in Teddington.
The biggest headline grabber will be the inclusion of Sale Sharksâ€™ fly half, Danny Cipriani. The former Whitgift pupil has long been recognised as one of Englandâ€™s most talented prospects but the former Wasps man has not added to his 7 Test caps since 2008 following a series of off-field misdemeanors, a spell in Australia, and a serious ankle injury.
He is joined by a number of Sale Sharks teammates, hooker Tommy Taylor, and New Zealand born lock Michael Paterson get their first taste of the England squad, while prop Henry Thomas will look to impress Lancaster and get some more senior game time under his belt, particularly as regular tighthead Dan Cole will miss the tour.
Arguably more significant though is the inclusion of the relegated Worcester Warriors full back, Chris Pennell. Pennell was one of the standout players of the Premiership this season, despite his sideâ€™s poor performances, and his inclusion is a real boost for players outside of the â€˜eliteâ€™ clubs, proving that form is rewarded.
He faces a tough task to make the New Zealand tour though, with the outstanding Mike Brown, Ben Foden, and Alex Goode all ahead of him, while Bathâ€™s Anthony Watson can also do a turn at full back.
Watson was a star of England U20s Junior World Championship win last year and has spent most of this year training with the England squad. He was then joined by his back three partner for that tournament, Exeter Chiefsâ€™ Jack Nowell, in the squad, with Nowell making his debut in the Six Nations.
Nowell is injured for this tour but a number of his Exeter Chiefs and JWC winning teammates are included in the training squad. The back row duo of Dave Ewers and the fully capped Tom Johnson are both in the squad, while JWC winners and Exeter Chiefs colleagues Sam Hill (centre), and Luke Cowan-Dickie (hooker) are both included.
Cowan-Dickie has a particularly strong chance of involvement in the Barbarians game and in the first Test after some barnstorming performances recently. His club fly half and last yearâ€™s JWC winning pivot, Henry Slade is also in with a shout of touring but must compete with the talented dup of Danny Cipriani and Gloucesterâ€™s Freddie Burns in this training squad first.
Burns is one of eight Gloucester players in the 20-man squad (tellingly, none are tight five forwards), of which Burns, Ben Morgan, Matt Kvesic, Billy Tewlvetrees, Charlie Sharples, and most recently, Jonny May are all capped.
Outside centre Henry Trinder looked likely to be capped in the autumn but just missed out, he has another chance to prove himself within the group now though, while scrum half Dan Robson has his first opportunity to impress Stuart Lancaster face to face.
London Irishâ€™s Marland Yarde makes his long awaited return to the international fold, while Newcastle Falconsâ€™ young prop, Kieran Brookes, will hope to make an impression in the senior set up after impressing in the junior ranks.
Speaking at the announcements, Stuart Lancaster said:
â€œThe New Zealand tour and the game against the Barbarians give us a chance to look at a wide group of players, some of whom are well known to us from the Elite Player Squad, others who we will get to work with for the first time next week.â€
â€œThat is an exciting challenge for us coaches and itâ€™s a great opportunity for those players to put a marker down for selection for the tour and the Barbarians game.â€
The players from the remaining six Aviva Premiership clubs will be filtered into the squad following the conclusion of their various club commitments.
According to the RFU the first group of players will fly to New Zealand on Tuesday 27th May, meaning they arrive on the 29th, while the second will fly on the 2nd June (to arrive on the 4th) following the Premiership final and the Barbarians fixture â€“ making the composition of the side for the Barbarians match somewhat intriguing.
England training squad:
Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons) – Loosehead
Freddie Burns (Gloucester Rugby) â€“ Fly Half
Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks) â€“ Fly Half
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs) – Hooker
Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs) â€“ Back Row
Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs) – Centre
Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs) â€“ Back Row
Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby) – Openside
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby) – Wing
Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby) â€“ Number 8
Michael Paterson (Sale Sharks) â€“ Second Row
Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors) â€“ Full Back
Dan Robson (Gloucester Rugby) â€“ Scrum Half
Charlie Sharples (Gloucester Rugby) – Wing
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs) â€“ Fly Half
Tommy Taylor (Sale Sharks) – Hooker
Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks) – Tighthead
Henry Trinder (Gloucester Rugby)â€¨- Centre
Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby) – Centre
Marland Yarde (London Irish) – Wing
Barbarians â€“ Twickenham, Sunday 1st June
New Zealand â€“ Saturday 7th June
New Zealand â€“ Saturday 14th June
Crusaders â€“ Tuesday 17th June
New Zealand â€“ Saturday 21st June