Ben Youngs faces an uncertain Test future after he was dropped for England’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy on Sunday.
England’s most-capped men’s player made a disappointing contribution off the bench in the 29-23 defeat by Scotland that launched Steve Borthwick’s reign and will play no part against the Azzurri.
It is the first time that he has been dropped for a Six Nations match since 2014 and it places a question mark over the 33-year-old’s involvement in the World Cup later this year.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 8, 2023
Alex Mitchell has been included in a reduced 29-man squad that will step up preparations for resurgent Italy’s visit to Twickenham in round two, providing support to first choice scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet.
Defence coach Kevin Sinfield insists that Youngs remains in England’s plans even if he will not be winning a 123rd cap this weekend, as do Ben Curry and Anthony Watson who have also been jettisoned.
“Just because a player has left camp to go home doesn’t mean they’re been discarded,” Sinfield said.
“They’re a massive part of what we’re trying to do and they’ve been outstanding in training.
“It’s just a side that we’ve picked based on the opposition and one that we think will give us the best chance of winning.
“The change from last week has not been performance related, it’s to do with the threat that Italy pose and the way we want to play.”
Watson’s departure from England camp paves the way for Henry Arundell to make his comeback after missing the autumn because of an ankle injury, either off the bench or as part of a reshaped back three.
The London Irish try-scoring sensation won all three of his caps on the July tour to Australia, announcing his arrival on the international stage with a stunning touch down in the first Test in Perth.
Jack Willis is the likely beneficiary of Curry being axed from the reduced training squad after missing the Calcutta Cup loss because of club commitments with French club Toulouse.
“I’ve only had three sessions with Henry and four with Jack, so my knowledge is going purely off what I have seen in training, but they are both outstanding individuals,” Sinfield said.
“Henry is super talented and very, very gifted as a rugby player. Jack has really impressed me. He’s really determined in how he goes about his business. He’s very professional.
“His commitment has been outstanding in jumping on a plane and getting backwards and forwards from France. Both great additions to the squad.”
England 29-man training squad:
Forwards: O Chessum (Leicester Tigers), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), A Dombrandt (Harlequins), T Dunn (Bath Rugby), B Earl (Saracens), E Genge (Bristol Bears), J George (Saracens), N Isiekwe (Saracens), M Itoje (Saracens), L Ludlam (Northampton Saints), D Ribbans (Northampton Saints), K Sinckler (Bristol Bears), M Vunipola (Saracens), J Walker (Harlequins), J Willis (Toulouse).
Backs: H Arundell (London Irish), O Farrell (Saracens), T Freeman (Northampton Saints), O Hassell-Collins (London Irish), O Lawrence (Bath Rugby), M Malins (Saracens), J Marchant (Harlequins), A Mitchell (Northampton Saints), H Slade (Exeter Chiefs), F Smith (Northampton Saints), M Smith (Harlequins), F Steward (Leicester Tigers), M Tuilagi (Sale Sharks), J van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers).