Ben Youngs omitted from England Six Nations squad for Italy encounter

Ben Youngs has been omitted from an England Six Nations squad for the first time since 2014 as Steve Borthwick prepares to reshuffle his team to face Italy on Sunday. Youngs, Ben Curry and Anthony Watson all featured against Scotland but have been sent back to their clubs with Alex Mitchell, Jack Willis, Henry Arundell and Henry Slade all retained.

The 33-year-old Leicester scrum-half has been a fixture under the past two England coaching regimes but, after 122 caps, will miss out this weekend with Jack van Poortvliet and Northampton’s Mitchell chosen ahead of him. The Toulouse-based Willis, meanwhile, looks poised to step into the back row after being left out of the Calcutta Cup matchday squad.

England’s defence coach, Kevin Sinfield, however, insisted Youngs’ absence did not necessarily signal the end of a record-breaking Test career and had been done specifically with the Italy game in mind. “Just because a player has left camp to go home doesn’t mean they’re been discarded,” said Sinfield. “We hope those guys continue to fight and stay in the room. Ben’s certainly part of our squad. The change from last week has not been performance related, it’s to do with the threat Italy pose and the way we want to play.”

Curry won only his second cap against the Scots but is suddenly nowhere to be seen and Watson is also surplus to requirements after featuring as a second-half replacement on Saturday. Willis’s strength at the breakdown, however, will be valuable against the Azzurri while the inclusion of Arundell appears to be another sign of England’s desire to inject more pace after allowing potential victory to slip away in the final quarter against Scotland.

The 20-year-old London Irish flier now looks set for a Six Nations debut off the bench, having made a positive impression on England’s tour to Australia last year before foot surgery interrupted his meteoric rise.

Arundell has already impressed Sinfield – “We’ve got a real talent on our hands” – while England’s captain Owen Farrell also rates the former Harrow schoolboy. “He’s got everything when it comes to a running game,” said Farrell. “You see that unbelievable try he scored against Toulon and you think ‘Brilliant’. But then he came on the Australia tour and he was doing that in training every other day.

“There are not too many people who put everyone on the edge of their seat when they get the ball. I don’t want to compare him to anyone but I remember growing up and watching Wigan … every time Jason Robinson got the ball something would happen. I’m not comparing him but Henry’s got a bit of that about him.”

Head coach Borthwick will certainly be hoping for a tighter English defensive effort after watching Scotland run in four tries at Twickenham. Sinfield has also been emphasising the same message this week. “Some of it is as simple and straightforward as saying, ‘You can’t miss tackles, guys’. You just can’t. And if you miss tackles you’d expect someone in our team to clear it up and we didn’t. I’m not happy with all four tries, to be honest. I know the players are disappointed.

“Is it system error? Possibly on some of them. You get that when you’re putting that many players together from different clubs in such a short space of time in such an intense environment. You’ve got to remember we’ve had maybe eight sessions with the group so far. They’ve been used to playing a certain way under the previous regime as well. But you can’t miss tackles at this level and expect to get away with it. We hit incredibly hard at the weekend which is something I’m passionate about but there are some movements we need to get better at.”