England ready to roll out Farrell

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The Independent Online

England's élite 55-man squad for the autumn internationals and Six Nations, which was announced yesterday, heralded a mix of good and bad news for the coach, Andy Robinson.

There is no place for the Bath prop Matt Stevens, who underwent a shoulder operation on Sunday and will miss the four autumn Tests against New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa (twice). The loss of the South Africa-born Stevens, 23, is a blow, but at least the beleaguered Robinson could include two players who appear to have recovered from long-term injuries.

The England captain, Jonny Wilkinson, who played the last of his 52 Tests in the 2003 World Cup final, has been rewarded for his patient rehabilitation with a place in the squad. As has Saracens' Andy Farrell, who has yet to play a game of rugby union, although there is a chance he will play in one of three pre-season friendlies, the first of which is against Gloucester at Kingsholm a week on Friday.

Farrell, the former Great Britain rugby league captain has been dogged with injury since making the switch, suffering a toe injury and undergoing surgery on a prolapsed disc in his back following a car accident just before last Christmas.

One glaring absentee is the Wasps wing Tom Voyce, who had a disappointing tour in Australia. But the news was good for Shaun Perry, who would have been on that trip but for injury, and the Bristol scrum-half finds himself a member of England's élite.

There is no place for the Leicester centre Ollie Smith, who just over a year ago was a member of the British and Irish Lions party to New Zealand. Smith is training with Brisbane Broncos in an effort to rejuvenate his career. He will rejoin Leicester in time for the start of the new season.

Bath's Duncan Bell and Gloucester's Andy Hazell, who both made last year's squad, have also been excluded, though could still figure, according to Robinson. "These players will form the nucleus of selection for the autumn Tests and the RBS 6 Nations. However, as is always the case, exclusion from these squads does not mean that the selection door to England is closed," he said.

The hooker Andy Titterell, who was also on the trip Down Under, has been left out because he injured his neck in Australia and is still recovering. Similarly, there is no place for Saracens' veteran back-row forward Richard Hill, who is reported as making steady progress after the reconstruction of his left knee.

In addition to injuries, Robinson was hit by key retirements, including the centre Will Greenwood, the former captain and full-back Jason Robinson, the scrum-half Matt Dawson and the prop Graham Rowntree.

The Tait family enjoyed a double celebration with the news that not only is the Newcastle centre Mathew in the senior squad, his 18-year-old brother Alex, another Falcon, has been drafted into the Intermediate National Academy squad - a level below the EPS.

Bunch of red roses: Elite Player Squad for 2006-07

S Abbott (Harlequins), I Balshaw (Gloucester), O Barkley (Bath), S Borthwick (Bath), M Catt (London Irish), G Chuter (Leicester), B Cohen (Northampton), M Corry (Leicester), M Cueto (Sale), L Dallaglio (Wasps), L Deacon (Leicester), H Ellis (Leicester), A Farrell (Saracens), J Forrester (Gloucester), A Goode (Leicester), D Grewcock (Bath), C Hodgson (Sale), C Jones (Sale), B Kay (Leicester), J Lewsey (Wasps), M Lipman (Bath), M Lund (Sale), L Mears (Bath), L Moody (Leicester), J Noon (Newcastle), T Payne (Wasps), S Perry (Bristol), P Richards (Gloucester), P Sanderson (Worcester), S Shaw (Wasps), A Sheridan (Sale), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), M Tait (Newcastle), S Thompson (Northampton), M Tindall (Gloucester), M Van Gisbergen (Wasps), P Vickery (Wasps), J White (Leicester), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), J Worsley (Wasps).

* In addition, P Freshwater (Perpignan) will be invited to attend training sessions