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Head coach Eddie Jones has set England “mission impossible” for the Guinness Six Nations after unveiling a 28-man squad including uncapped backs Paolo Odogwu and Harry Randall.
Jones hailed Wasps flier Odogwu’s line-breaking as potentially “world class” while Randall’s “initiative in attack” forced his selection as a third scrum-half.
After winning the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup last year, Jones has reset a target of nothing less than total domination ahead of the opening match against Scotland at Twickenham on Feb 6.
“We want to keep adapting to the opposition and the conditions – and we want to be an impossible team to play against,” Jones said. “We want to be a team that plays at a level that the other teams can’t compete against.
“The ball’s in play for 32 minutes so that’s 32 minutes we want to dominate the opposition. And that’s our goal – to be able to dominate at the set-piece, be able to dominate at the breakdown. When we get the ball and we use the ball, be able to take the ball forward in an effective manner. When we kick, have a great kicking game. When we defend, drive the opposition backwards.”
Uncapped prop Beno Obano is also included while there is a return from injury for lock Courtney Lawes.
Centre Jonathan Joseph and flanker Jack Willis drop to a 12-strong “shadow squad” who will remain at their clubs but be subject to the same testing procedures as those involved in the tournament.
Props Mako Vunipola, who is suffering from an Achilles tendon problem, and Kyle Sinckler, who is serving a two-match suspension, are not involved in either squad but can be picked once they are available for selection.
Odogwu and Randall were eligible for selection by Italy and Wales respectively while another player who had previously been called up by Jones, centre Cameron Redpath, was this week selected by Scotland. “He [Redpath] decided to make himself available for Scotland so that’s his choice,” Jones said. “These boys who have got dual nations they can pick from, they’ve got to make their choice.
“He [Randall] wants to play for England; we want guys who want to play for England. There are a lot of guys out there who have options to play for a number of countries
but we want players who want to play for England and he had no hesitation that he wanted to play for England.”
England’s preparations have been far from ideal with forwards coach Matt Proudfoot testing positive for Covid-19, forcing Jones and attack coach Simon Amor to isolate. Skills coach Jason Ryles also pulled out of the tournament to remain in Australia, which has resulted in Jones turning to Jersey Reds’ 27-year-old assistant coach Ed Robinson as a replacement.
“Ed is a young guy I’ve been working with for a while now. All through the lockdown we were having weekly meetings on his coaching at Jersey,” Jones said. “He’s got some great coaching ideas. While we’ll miss Jason we’re lucky to have Ed in the camp.”
While other countries have selected 35 players or more in their squads, Jones believes the imposition of a 28-man limit agreed between the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby will work to England’s benefit. He said: “By Wednesday we normally have 25 players so we will be at an advantage this time by having 28 players so we are delighted by it.”
Many of England’s leading players are lacking in game time after the cancellation of two rounds of European matches. Of the five Saracens players in the squad only Billy Vunipola has played a match since the Autumn Nations Cup in an 80-minute runout against Ealing Trailfinders last week.
Again Jones has taken a positive interpretation that they will be able to hit the ground running after a crucial period of test.
“I thought he [Vunipola] was robust, got around the field, albeit in a difficult game for him and I know the rest of the boys have been training really hard,” Jones said.
“For those boys in particular who have been at the top of the game and played extra post-season games for the last three or four years, this time period is almost like a godsend to them.
“They are able to freshen their bodies up and do some really good strength and conditioning work and come back as even better players. So I am anticipating those players will come back even better.”
A case of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' for England and Eddie Jones
Telegraph Sport's Charles Richardson says the squad is very much a continuation of Jones' squads from the autumn with 22 of the players named in his 28-man squad having been in the 27-man squad picked for the Autumn Nations Cup final-training week to take on France.
Who is most likely to feel miffed at his exclusion? According to Charles it's Jack Willis.
Read Charles' full reaction to the England squad here.
How could England use Paolo Odogwu?
Here's what Telegraph Sport's Charlie Morgan thinks.
Wasps have brought Paolo Odogwu into games from kick-returns, lineout strikes and even a funky close-range tap penalty move. Will be cool if England are similarly proactive with him and Ollie Lawrence.
— Charlie Morgan (@CharlieFelix) January 22, 2021
The squad in Twitter form
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) January 22, 2021
Eddie Jones' pre-prepared thoughts
"This has been a really tough squad to pick and I know there are a lot of disappointed players who haven't been selected. We're really excited by the players we have got, it's a very vibrant squad and we are looking forward to getting started next week. We're very grateful to Premiership Rugby, the clubs and the RPA for allowing us to have 28 players throughout the tournament, we're very happy with the number and it's testament to the growing relationships between all parties. Ultimately our goal is to win the Six Nations and to do that we'll need to work hard, prepare well each day and take it as it comes."
No Sinckler or Joseph
There is no room for centre Jonathan Joseph, nor Kyle Sinckler who is suspended for England's opener against Scotland after being handed a two-week ban for swearing. So one of England's best players will definitely be out of the opening match and it will be interesting to hear the reasoning behind leaving him out of the squad. Who knows he may come back in at a later stage considering how quickly things are changing.
Jones has named a 12-man shadow squad that has ix uncapped players in.
England Shadow Squad: Charlie Atkinson (Wasps, uncapped) Ali Crossdale (Saracens, uncapped) Tom Dunn (Bath Rugby, 3 caps) Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 17 caps) George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 3 caps) Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, uncapped) Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby, 54 caps) Joe Marchant (Harlequins, 4 caps) George Martin (Leicester Tigers, uncapped) Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, uncapped) Jacob Umaga (Wasps, uncapped) Jack Willis (Wasps, 2 caps)
Atkinson, Crossdale, Heyes, Martin, Mitchell and Umaga are the uncapped six and with the others in the shadow squad will will be part of the same testing protocols as the tournament squad.
Skim reading isn't my forte BUT this is what I've gleaned from the names below...
Wasps' Paolo Odogwu and Bristol Bears' Harry Randall receive first call-ups.
Bit of a surprise not to see Jack Willis in but, to be fair, Newcastle's Mark Wilson has been in excellent form.
Courtney Lawes returns from injury.
Mako Vunipola isn't named due to injury but is set to join the squad to undergo rehab during the tournament.
England's 28-man squad for the Six Nations is as follows...
Backs: E Daly (Saracens), O Farrell (Saracens), G Ford (Leicester), O Lawrence (Worcester), M Malins (Bristol), J May (Gloucester), P Odogwu (Wasps), H Randall (Bristol), D Robson (Wasps), H Slade (Exeter), A Watson (Bath), B Youngs (Leicester).
Forwards: L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), T Curry (Sale), B Earl (Bristol), E Genge (Leicester), J George (Saracens), J Hill (Exeter), M Itoje (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), J Marler (England), B Obano (Bath), W Stuart (Bath), S Underhill (Bath), B Vunipola (Saracens), H Williams (Exeter), M Wilson (Newcastle).
Will Paolo Odogwu get the nod?
Paolo Odogwu has been in fine form for Wasps and many are predicting him to make the 28-man squad.
Beef up your knowledge of Wasps' breakthrough talent and potential secret weapon for England by reading this...
While the cat's away...
...the mice will play?
Who remembers at school when the teacher was ill and despite slight feelings of guilt you rejoiced? No? Just me? Anyway, it was always much more fun, less intense and stressful when the replacement teacher took the lesson. That is what in effect is what the England squad will experience when they gather at St George;s Park.
Dates for the diary
So who would you pick?
We all fancy ourselves as England coaches, from easily picking apart where Jones and Co got it wrong (to defensive, I say!) to tearing our hair out that X or Y is still on the pitch. One of the easier things for us armchair pundits to do is name a squad.
We got our rugby experts to name who they think Jones should pick for this year's Six Nations.
Not the ideal situation
Jones is self-isolating at the moment due following coach Matt Proudfoot’s positive Covid-19 test.
Jones and attack coach Simon Amor have both been identified as close contacts of Proudfoot, who is not displaying any symptoms. The tests were carried out as part of England’s testing regime..
Read all about the situation here.
Eddie Jones set to reveal his cards....
Due to coronavirus, Eddie Jones can only select 28 players. Will he pick bolters like Harry Randall and Paolo Odogwu like our writers have?
England come into the tournament on the back of their Autumn Nations Cup victory and looking to repeat their Six Nations win last year. Stay here for the build up and announcement.