Dylan Hartley in England squad – but told to toe the line
Stuart Lancaster gives banned hooker latest chance and says depth of talent made selections tricky
In naming a 33-man squad for the new season, the England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, drew on players who have spent the summer variously in Argentina, Australia or simply on holiday – while delivering one, the currently suspended Dylan Hartley, from purgatory.
Hartley forfeited his place on the Lions tour to Australia when he was sent off for abuse of the referee while captaining his club Northampton in May's Premiership final. But Lancaster recently met Hartley and has been reassured the player now "knows where the line is".
Hartley's 11-week ban for his dismissal runs until 1 September, a few days before the Premiership kicks off. But though it was far from Hartley's first misdemeanour, Lancaster chose not to punish the 27-year-old, 47-cap hooker further by demoting him from England's Senior Elite Player Squad.
"I met Dylan a couple of weeks ago, we had a long conversation," said Lancaster, who otherwise made six changes to the last senior squad named in January. "I wanted to understand exactly what happened that day [of the final], and what his view on it now was. I wanted to be reassured that he understands where the line is, and what's right and what's wrong in terms of discipline. He knows he did wrong but there's enough I've seen of Dylan to reassure me that he deserves his next chance."
England have a three-day camp in August, but their dozen Lions will be spared training, so the squad, which has no uncapped players, will only meet in earnest in October, a fortnight before the opening QBE International against Australia at Twickenham on 2 November, with Argentina and New Zealand to follow. The other senior squad hooker, Tom Youngs, featured in all three Lions Tests, while Bath's Rob Webber, who is in the Saxons squad of 32, was part of an England scrum that dominated Argentina during the two-Test clean sweep in June.
Mathew Tait's re-emergence in the Saxons may have the senior full-backs Mike Brown, Ben Foden and the currently injured Alex Goode looking over their shoulders. And with Lancaster planning for all experimentation to be over by this time next year – 13 months out from a home World Cup – the young wings Christian Wade and Marland Yarde are moving in the right direction at the right time.
So too Kyle Eastmond, Bath's 24-year-old code-crosser, once of St Helens, who in common with Wade and Yarde was capped in Argentina and made the most of it. Eastmond and Billy Twelvetrees have a chance to smooth the back line's rough edges by offering the "second footballer" Lancaster likes in midfield rather than at full-back. Jonathan Joseph and Dave Strettle have been nudged out behind the scrum, while in the back five of the pack Calum Clark, James Haskell, Tom Johnson and Thomas Waldrom are jettisoned in favour of Dave Attwood, Matt Kvesic and Billy Vunipola to rubber-stamp their performances in South America.
"This was the toughest EPS selection we've had to make," said Lancaster. "Twelve England players were part of a victorious British & Irish Lions tour, eight others won their first caps in Argentina, a number of rested senior players will have benefited from their break and our Under-20 side won the Junior World Championship."
Among the five senior men Lancaster gave the summer off – Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt (though he was recruited by the Lions), Danny Care, Toby Flood and Chris Robshaw – the last named faces a hefty challenge for his open-side place from the all-action Kvesic and for the captaincy from Northampton's Tom Wood, who assumed the role in Argentina with considerable panache.
Red Rose in bloom: Elite player squad
There are no uncapped players in England's 33-man senior squad, but half a dozen changes from the last group named in January.
A handy alternative to Geoff Parling, the Bath lock began to put disciplinary worries behind him with an authoritative tour of Argentina, including calling the line-outs.
A jinking try in the second summer Test in Buenos Aires was Jason Robinson-esque, demonstrating the quick feet and reactions of Bath's ex-rugby league centre.
Open-side flanker newly signed by Gloucester from Worcester, and emerging as the fast-breaking link man England have been missing.
Summer transfer from Wasps to join brother Mako at Saracens, and looking to push Ben Morgan as England's ball-carrying bruiser at No 8.
Made his debut in Argentina before joining the Lions; stardom awaits the Wasps wing if he can add decent defence to his attacking gifts.
One-time QPR trialist is mixing it with the Twickers set now and the London Irish wing is tipped by club coach Brian Smith to win 50 caps.
Forwards D Attwood, D Cole, A Corbisiero, T Croft, D Hartley, M Kvesic, J Launchbury, C Lawes, J Marler, B Morgan, G Parling, C Robshaw, B Vunipola, M Vunipola, D Wilson, T Wood, T Youngs.
Backs C Ashton, B Barritt, M Brown, F Burns, D Care, L Dickson, O Farrell, T Flood, B Foden, A Goode, K Eastmond, M Tuilagi, B Twelvetrees, C Wade, M Yarde, B Youngs.
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