Stuart Lancaster has named the England senior elite player squad and has retained under-fire names Chris Ashton and Dylan Hartley while also naming six new faces.
Lock Dave Attwood, flanker Matt Kvesic, number eight Billy Vunipola, centre Kyle Eastmond and wing duo Christian Wade and Marland Yarde have been included in the 33-man squad announced this morning.
All six have been rewarded for their good form throughout last year’s Aviva Premiership as well as the end-of-season tour of Argentina, with Calum Clarke, Tom Johnson, James Haskell, Thomas Waldrom, Jonathan Joseph and David Strettle all dropping down to the 32-man Saxons squad.
Lancaster rested Ashton along with captain Chris Robshaw, Brad Barritt – who was later called up as injury cover for the British and Irish Lions - Danny Care and Toby Flood for the summer tour, but Lancaster has stuck by his word to include them in the EPS after their enforced rest.
Ashton attracted criticism during England’s RBS Six Nations campaign despite scoring against Scotland in the opening fixture, with his exposure in defence being highlighted as a potential reason to be dropped.
Wade and Yarde have just a single cap each though coming on the tour to Argentina, and Lancaster has opted to stay with Ashton’s experience in what he labelled the “toughest EPS selection” he’s had to make.
"This was the toughest EPS selection we've had to make with fierce competition for places in every area of the squad after an excellent summer for England players at all levels," Lancaster said.
"Christian Wade and Marland Yarde brought their outstanding Aviva Premiership form to the tour.
"Kyle Eastmond showed his potential and by including him in the squad we get a chance to work with him some more as we build towards the autumn.
"Up front, David Attwood adds a physical presence to the second row and in Matt Kvesic and Billy Vunipola we have young back row players who will challenge our more established back row players hard."
Hartley has also maintained his place despite being handed an 11-week ban for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in last season’s Aviva Premiership final against Leicester Tigers.
The incident cost Hartley his place on the Lions tour to Australia, with his suspension running on until September 1.
Lancaster admitted he thought about Hartley’s position given is poor disciplinary record, but claimed he was reassured by the 27-year-old’s contrition.
"I had a long hard think about it and a long conversation with him. I wanted to be reassured that he understands where the line is, what is right and what is wrong," Lancaster said.
"He accepts that and knows he needs a strong start to the season with Northampton as changes can be made with Rob Webber and David Paice pushing hard.
"Unfortunately, we can only have 33 in the Senior EPS but those who just missed out have plenty to offer.
"They are still very much in the international picture and there is flexibility built into the system that facilitates that."
The captaincy will not be decided until closer to the start of the Autumn series with matches against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. Robshaw has been the long-standing leader during Lancaster’s reign, although Tom Wood impressed when he was handed the role in the Harlequins flanker’s absence this summer.
Lancaster has always maintained that Robshaw was not a shoe-in for the role, and has repeatedly said that Robshaw has to continue his fantastic form he has shown over the past two seasons if he wants to hold onto it.
England senior elite player squad:
Forwards: D Attwood (Bath), D Cole (Leicester), A Corbisiero (Northampton), T Croft (Leicester), D Hartley (Northampton), M Kvesic (Gloucester), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), J Marler (Harlequins), B Morgan (Gloucester), G Parling (Leicester), C Robshaw (Harlequins), B Vunipola (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), D Wilson (Bath), T Wood (Northampton), T Youngs (Leicester).
Backs: C Ashton (Saracens), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins), F Burns (Gloucester), D Care (Harlequins), L Dickson (Northampton), O Farrell (Saracens), T Flood (Leicester), B Foden (Northampton), A Goode (Saracens), K Eastmond (Bath), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), C Wade (Wasps), M Yarde (London Irish), B Youngs (Leicester).
England Saxons squad:
Forwards: C Clark (Northampton), J Crane (Leicester), P Doran Jones (Harlequins), W Fraser (Saracens), J Haskell (Wasps), T Johnson (Exeter), G Kitchener (Leicester), G Kruis (Saracens), K Myall (Wasps), D Paice (London Irish), G Robson (Harlequins), E Slater (Leicester), H Thomas (Sale), T Waldrom (Leicester), L Wallace (Harlequins), R Webber (Bath), N Wood (Gloucester).
Backs: A Allen (Leicester), L Burrell (Northampton), E Daly (Wasps), G Ford (Bath), J Joseph (Bath), J May (Gloucester), U Monye (Harlequins), S Myler (Northampton), J Nowell (Exeter), C Sharples (Gloucester), J Simpson (Wasps), D Strettle (Saracens), M Tait (Leicester), J Tomkins (Saracens), R Wigglesworth (Saracens).