England coach Eddie Jones has sprung a surprise naming 19-year-old Harlequins’ duo Gabriel Ibitoye and Marcus Smith in a 33-man squad to prepare for France in Paris on March 10.
Both winger Ibitoye and fly-half Smith, who are considered ‘apprentice’ players by Jones, are among those added to the 24 players who were involved in the snow-affected training camps staged across the country last week.
Wasps winger Elliot Daly is also included as he continues his bid to prove his fitness after suffering ankle and calf injuries that have prevented his involvement in the Championship to date.
England were heavily criticized after their shock loss to Scotland in Edinburgh for a lack of spark and ideas – hence Jones’ injection of young blood for Paris.
Smith is the highest-paid teenager in world rugby after he penned a new contract from next season that will see him earn £230,000-a-season, representing an increase of more than £200,000.
The Manila-born youngster has started 11 of Quins’ 13 Premiership matches this season, and is being seriously considered as a candidate for Jones’ England squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Powerhouse Ibitoye started the initial three games in the 2017 Six Nations at U20 level and was England’s leading try-scorer, with five, in the subsequent World Rugby U20 Championship in Georgia.
His performances won him the accolade of being shortlisted for the player of the tournament award.
A third Quin, who were boosted by the announcement of a new partnership with the All Blacks during the week, has also been added with prop Kyle Sinckler returning to the national squad.
In total Harlequins, who sit in ninth place in the Premiership, have seven players in the squad while top of the table Exeter Chiefs have just three.
After beating Italy 46-15 and Wales 12-6 in the tournament, England lost 13-25 to Scotland last time out to sit second in the table behind Ireland going into round four.
England face Ireland on March 17 at Twickenham on the final day.
England squad to prepare for France in Paris on March 10
Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Care (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins)*, Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Alex Lozowski (Saracens), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Marcus Smith (Harlequins)*, Denny Solomona (Sale Sharks), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (Wasps), Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)
The British and Irish Lions wing has missed the opening three rounds of the title defence with ankle and calf injuries but is in contention for the trip to Paris on March 10.
Should he emerge unscathed from the practice run-out at Twickenham, Eddie Jones will know he is available as England look to revive their tournament prospects in the wake of a comprehensive defeat by Scotland.
“Hopefully he’ll be able to train with us and if he trains with us, then he could well be in consideration for France,” head coach Jones said.
Having established himself as a starting wing under Jones, Daly was in danger of missing the entire Six Nations because of the high ankle sprain sustained on club duty for Wasps in mid-December.
The 25-year-old made a quicker-than-expected return, only to then be afflicted by a minor calf issue.
“The calf thing was nothing major, but it set me back a week. I was coming back early from my ankle so it’s probably turned out even,” Daly said.
“The calf just felt a little bit tight at the back end of the week at Wasps. It wasn’t anything major but it just had to be managed for a week.
“I feel really good. I did a lot of stuff to come back from my ankle and I’ve only been a week out with my calf so I’ve maintained most of that.
“It’s just about getting up to speed with the boys now. I’m pretty much there.
“The training here with England is suited to getting you back quicker. We’re at match intensity all the time pushing yourself to the limit.
“If you can do that, then you can do it in the game.”
Under Jones’s guidance England have excelled at winning tight matches in the latter stages until their 25-13 loss at Murrayfield, but Daly insists they still retain a sense of indestructibility despite the setback against Scotland.
“I think so because of the way we train. We want to cover absolutely everything in training,” Daly said.
“Eddie chucks us the ball and usually it’s a ‘one shot, one kill’ scenario. If you drop the ball you’re defending. The way he trains is really good in that regard.”
Eddie Jones insists England are “working round the clock” to address the shortcomings exposed by Saturday’s Calcutta Cup defeat at Murrayfield.
Scotland dominated the breakdown and exploited a frailty in defence to complete a 25-13 victory that leaves England’s NatWest 6 Nations title defence on precarious ground with two rounds remaining.
Jones admits it took too long to adjust to the landscape of the match – by half-time they had been over-run 22-6 – but views the setback as a necessary part of the team’s learning curve.
“We’ve done an exhaustive investigation into finding out what wasn’t right and there are some things that we’ve found we could have done better,” Jones said.
“We’ve been coming up with solutions to those over the last couple of days. We had a really good meeting yesterday (Tuesday).
“Learning to fix it on the hop is the next step. It’s very easy to talk about leadership and how to change things, but it’s harder to do.
“After 20 minutes it would have been ideal if we’d have reacted quicker, but we didn’t and it took us until half-time.
“But that’s the progression of the team and unless you have these sort of lessons you don’t learn from them and we’ve learnt a lot.
“It’s a harsh lesson and a lesson we don’t want to have again but the likelihood is we could well have it.
“It took New Zealand eight years to learn how to fix things on the field. We’re trying to do it in four, so everything’s a bit more difficult for us.
“The only way to accelerate the process is not to sleep. That’s the only way. It’s not easy. We’re working round the clock to fix it. And we’ll get there but we’re going to have these sorts of situations.”
The loss in Edinburgh was only the second blemish of Eddie Jones’ reign and the head coach has called for perspective ahead of the clash with France in Paris on Saturday week.
“There’s no lack of attitude in our side,” the Australian said. “I’ve seen various commentaries about various things about the team, but any team that wins 23 in 25 games has got a bit of steel about them.
“Yes, we were caught short on Saturday, but they have plenty of steel about them, so I don’t need to worry about the steel or the character of these players.
“We’re all gutted as we put a lot into the preparation. We thought we’d prepared well and we played poorly. I give full credit to Scotland.”
Six Nations Rugby has ended its investigation into the tunnel scuffle between Owen Farrell and Ryan Wilson that took place before kick-off on Saturday, opting against taking disciplinary action.
“There was no clear evidence of violent conduct or similar against any individual player,” a statement read.
“Six Nations Rugby will be writing to the SRU and the RFU to remind them and their respective players of their obligations to uphold the reputation of the tournament at all times.”
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