England head coach Eddie Jones expects to have Manu Tuilagi available for the final two matches of the Six Nations, but has not given up hope of him returning sooner.
Tuilagi has been included in Jones’ first squad with Ollie Devoto of Bath present as an injury replacement until the British and Irish Lion proves his fitness after 15 months out with a groin problem.
The 24-year-old made his comeback for Leicester against Northampton last Saturday and will continue to play for his club with a view to appearing against Wales and France with Jones viewing him as a possible solution to the perennial problem position of inside centre.
“I’ve chatted to (director of rugby) Richard Cockerill and at this stage it looks like he will be ready for the Wales game,” Jones said. “Hopefully we’ll get him for the last two games of the Six Nations, but he might come through very quickly.”
Jones has performed radical surgery in naming his first England squad, omitting nine players who were present at last autumn’s World Cup while recalling Tuilagi, Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton. Tom Youngs is the biggest casualty and Tom Wood, Geoff Parling, Rob Webber, Brad Barritt, Nick Easter, David Wilson, Ben Morgan and Richard Wigglesworth are also missing, taking them with a combined total of 297 caps.
In total there are seven uncapped players among the 33 in Sam Hill, Josh Beaumont – son of Rugby Football Union chairman Bill – Jack Clifford, Elliot Daly, Devoto, Paul Hill and Maro Itoje.
“There’s a lot of disappointed players, I’m not going to go through each one individually. I’ve spoken to each of the players – whether they remember the conversation I’m not sure,” Jones said.
“They know what they have got to do to get into the squad and there have been a number of close calls.”
One player who has survived is Chris Robshaw, England’s incumbent captain who is likely to see that role passed to Hartley but is favourite to start at blindside flanker having served for the past four years in the number seven jersey.
Robshaw has been outstanding for Harlequins since returning from the World Cup and Jones insists he was ill-suited to openside.
“We are not going to have any six-and-a-halves. We want a six and a seven. Chris Robshaw has been doing exceedingly well at six – maybe because he’s got half a number off his back!” Jones said. “He’s been playing brilliantly and will push very hard to get into the team.”
Jones refuses to be drawn on who will lead England against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 6.
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