Manu Tuilagi has been omitted from coach Eddie Jones’ 34-man England squad who are due to partake in a two-day training camp in Brighton ahead of the ensuing Six Nations.
Injured Saracens’ pair Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje are named in the 34, alongside rookie Bath prop Beno Obano and former Scotland Under-20s flanker Gary Graham.
Tuilagi might have felt quietly confident of inclusion after completing two outings for the Tigers in December after returning from a knee injury. But the Samoan-born's rustiness means that Jones has seen fit to leave him to get matches under his belt.
Tuilagi’s disappointment at being left out could be worsened by the fact that Vunipola has been included, despite an ongoing knee injury of his own which will keep him out of Saracens’ game against Worcester Warriors.
The Saracens' number 8 has only made two appearances since the end of last season, but is deemed worthy of a place in England’s Six Nations plans.
The inclusion of Itoje is less of a surprise. Although isn’t due to return to action until January after suffering a fractured jaw, he is in non-contact training.
The two-day training camp in Brighton, which commences next week, will be Eddie Jones’ first opportunity to take a look at his players ahead of the Six Nations.
“This camp in Brighton is important for us to set the tone as a squad ahead of the Six Nations,” Jones said. “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.
“Brighton will provide a great base to begin our preparations with players coming away with a clear plan for our opening match of the campaign against Italy.”
There are also call-ups for the uncapped Obano and Newcastle’s Graham – a loose forward and son of former Scotland international George Graham. Tom Dunn is also included, having been a part of the squad throughout the autumn internationals without making his debut.
Wasps flanker James Haskell is picked after being dropped for the autumn internationals as Bath’s Sam Underhill remains absent with concussion. Courtney Lawes, one of the stand-outs from England’s renaissance under Jones, is left out due to personal reasons.
Kyle Sinckler, who served a seven-week ban for eye-gouging that ruled him out the autumn internationals, also earns a recall.
Long-term injury casualties Elliot Daly and Nathan Hughes are predictably left-out.
England’s Six Nations campaign kicks-off in Rome against Italy on February 4th, before a mouth-watering clash versus Wales at Twickenham. Crunch consecutive away-games against Scotland and France follow, before they wrap up their tournament at home to Ireland on 17 March.
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