Manu Tuilagi has been left out of England’s training squad for a two-day camp in Brighton next week following his latest comeback from injury but Eddie Jones has handed surprise call-ups to the Newcastle flanker Gary Graham and the Bath prop Beno Obano. There are also returns for Billy Vunipola and James Haskell.
The inclusion of the 25-year-old Graham is a surprise considering he has represented Scotland at under-20 level and has made only three Premiership starts, having joined Newcastle from Jersey last summer. He is the son of the former Scotland international, George, has played for Gala and his England call-up is a blow for Scotland.
The surprise of his selection is mitigated by the enforced injury absences of the back-row trio of Sam Underhill, Nathan Hughes and Tom Curry but it was only in October that Scotland announced its revamped strategy to attract England-based players. It did not go down well at the Rugby Football Union but two months later Graham has been selected by Jones.
Vunipola is nearing a return to fitness after the knee injury that forced him to miss the autumn internationals while Haskell is recalled after he was omitted throughout the November series. Obano, who is joined in the 34-man squad by his cousin Maro Itoje – another Saracens forward nearing a return to fitness following a broken jaw – is rewarded for his fine form for Bath.
Tuilagi’s absence is not surprising considering he has looked rusty in his two appearances for Leicester this month following another long lay-off with a knee injury. He was included in a similar England camp in August, only to be sent home following a late-night drinking session with Denny Solomona. Jones remains eager to select Tuilagi, provided he can show his best form, and so his omission is an indication he has work to do to force his way into England’s Six Nations plans.
The Saracens pair Alex Lozowski and George Kruis are among the most notable omissions, although the latter lost his place in the England match-day squad in the autumn. Lozowski started the final international against Samoa but will remain with his club. Courtney Lawes will also miss the camp for personal reasons.
Kyle Sinckler, whose suspension ruled him out of two of England’s three autumn Tests, is recalled by Jones as is the fit-again Jack Nowell. Ben Te’o is also part of the squad, having been out with an ankle injury since October. He was deemed unlikely to be fit for the start of the Six Nations by his club, Worcester, last week.
Harlequins’ teenage fly-half Marcus Smith and the Bath back-row Zach Mercer are again named as apprentice players while the hooker Tom Dunn and the Saracens wing Nathan Earle complete the sextet of uncapped players. Elliot Daly and Semesa Rokoduguni miss out through injury.
Jones, who has targeted a record-breaking third consecutive Six Nations title, said: “This camp in Brighton is important for us to set the tone as a squad ahead of the Six Nations. We will need to improve if we are to hunt down our opponents and beat them. This tournament will be exciting and challenging as we know we will play against some very strong teams.” The squad will convene in Brighton on Monday. Jones is expected to name his squad for the Six Nations on 18 January before a week’s training camp in Portugal three days later.
England training squad for Brighton camp
Backs Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Care (Harlequins), Nathan Earle (Saracens), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester), Piers Francis (Northampton), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Jonny May (Leicester), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Henry Slade (Exeter), Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Denny Solomona (Sale), Ben Te’o (Worcester), Anthony Watson (Bath), Ben Youngs (Leicester).
Forwards Dan Cole (Leicester), Tom Dunn (Bath), Charlie Ewels (Bath), Jamie George (Saracens), Gary Graham (Newcastle), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), James Haskell (Wasps), Nick Isiekwe (Saracens), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Zach Mercer (Bath), Beno Obano (Bath), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Sam Simmonds (Exeter), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter).