Underwood, replaced on the wing by Leon Lloyd, has been axed already this season, but this is the first time in a 14-year career, incorporating 297 first-team games, that Richards, 33 and the captain this season, has been dropped. Bob Dwyer, Leicester's uncompromising director of rugby, feels Ireland's Eric Miller could not be ignored.
Richards was not surprised: "We have five or six outstanding back-row players, so it was inevitable that something like this would happen," he said. "Eric has been playing outstandingly well for Leicester and Ireland, so he has to be given a chance."
Italy will seek an explanation from the Five Nations committee after being told that their application to join the Championship is on hold for at least two more years.
The Italian Federation chairman Giancarlo Dondi said: "I want to know in what sense Italy is inadequate - there are currently 30,000 rugby players in Italy, and we hope it will be 50,000 by the year 2000," he said.
Commercial concerns are believed to underpin the decision, with rugby rated a low-profile sport by the Italian media and spectator interest poor.
France will be missing the stand-off Alain Penaud for the match against Wales at Parc des Princes on 15 February. The Brive captain injured his ankle in the European final two weeks ago. Thomas Castaignede is also out with a broken jaw.
ENGLAND TRAINING SQUAD (World Cup Sevens, Hong Kong, March): Backs: N Beal (Northampton), A Adebayo (Bath), W Greenwood (Leicester), A Healey (Leicester), M Catt (Bath), J Sleightholme (Bath), P Sampson (Wasps), D Scully (Wakefield), M Dawson (Northampton), N Greenstock (Wasps), J Naylor (Orrell), S Roiser (Wasps), R Hitchmough (Orrell). Forwards: C Sheasby (Wasps), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), N Back (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens), R Jenkins (Harlequins), P Scrivener (Wasps), M Corry (Bristol).Reuse content