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England squad named for Six Nations

England coach Eddie Jones names his squad for the Red Rose's opener

England start the upcoming Six Nations tournament as favorites as they look to seal an unprecedented third straight Six Nations title. England head coach Eddie Jones has named 8 uncapped players to his squad of 35 for their Six Nations opener against Italy on February 4. Loosehead props Alec Hepburn of Exeter Chiefs and Lewis Boyce of Harlequins are promoted in the absence of Joe Marler, Ellis Genge, and Beno Obano. Also named to the England squad are Saracens wing Nathan Earle and Northampton Saints playmaker Harry Mallinder, both of whom toured to Argentina last summer without winning a cap. "Can't be arrogant or presumptuous' about the England job," said Jones. "Ireland are dominating European rugby at the moment. Their provincial sides are doing well, their national side has had great success. Everyone talks about their central contracting and how they have their players in fantastic condition. So I don't know why the other teams bother to turn up. But we will get in there and we will compete. If you read most of the popular press there's no reason for us to turn up. But I think we have a point or two to prove."

Popular with Bath boss Todd Blackadder, uncapped hooker Tom Dunn Hugely was at England's training camps last autumn. Hugely has done well in the Premiership and Champions Cup this season.Harlequins loosehead prop Lewis Boyce arrived from Championship side Yorkshire Carnegie at the start of the campaign. Boyce is a World Under-20 Championship winner with England in 2016 who has impressed club coach Graham Rowntree with his scrummaging and tenacity in the loose. Loosehead, Alec Hepburn has recovered from a knee injury and returned to duty with the Exeter Chiefs. A mobile, quick rugby player, Hepburn also got in a set-piece tussle with Dan Cole on New Year's Eve. Hepburnstarred for the England Saxons in South Africa in 2016 and helped Jack Nowell, Henry Slade win England's maiden Junior World Championship three years ago. Eddie Jones called up Gary Graham for a Brighton training-camp this month despite him having little game-time in Newcastle Falcons' back row. A Championship graduate, the former Jersey man was born in Stirling and represented Scotland in U20. Graham is an agile carrier and a tough defender. Northampton Saints 21-year-old Harry Mallinder was named to make his England debut. Newcastle Falcons back-rower Gary Graham continues his England involvement, as do Bath hooker Tom Dunn, Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith, and Zach Mercer. Bath back-rower Mercer has been stripped of his 'apprentice' tag on the way to a Test debut in Rome in Round One.

Mercer's strong displays for Bath, plus injuries to Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes, have seen Zach Mercer called up. Last season's England U20 skipper Mercer is ready for his Test debut in Rome. Mercer's handling skills and attacking awareness are key to his debut, and he is more muscular than ever. England coach Jones believes he has "hardened". Bath number eight Zach Mercer is in line to make his England debut in their Six Nations opener against Italy after losing his "apprentice" tag. The 20-year-old is one of eight uncapped players in coach Eddie Jones' squad for the 4 February game in Rome. First-choice number eight Billy Vunipola is set to miss the entire tournament with a fractured arm, while Nathan Hughes is also missing. Mercer trained with England during the Autumn Internationals as an "apprentice" player. But Jones has seen a marked improvement in Mercer's displays over the past few months. "It's an opportunity for him," Jones said about Mercer. "He's had a fairly short apprenticeship because of the fact Billy and Nathan are both out now. We would have liked him to have learned a little bit longer from those two boys. But he's got his opportunity and he's got to front up. I think he's ready. He's done well for Bath and really toughened his game up. There's an opportunity for him." Jones also says he doesn't think Vunipola will play any part in the Six Nations Championship after suffering a fractured arm. "At this stage we can't see Billy being available," said Jones.

Jones is also without British and Irish Lions winger Elliot Daly, who has an ankle problem. Wasps flanker James Haskell and Harlequins prop Joe Marler are banned for the opener against Italy in addition to the 10 February's home fixture against Wales after being found guilty of dangerous play.Haskell was sent off for a high tackle on Harlequins and Wales centre Jamie Roberts in the European Champions Cup on Saturday. The absences have paved the way for uncapped international rookies with Harlequins' 20-year-old prop Lewis Boyce, Exeter front-rower Alec Hepburn and Newcastle flanker Gary Graham among the uncapped inclusions. Northampton full-back Harry Mallinder, Saracens winger Nathan Earle, Bath hooker Tom Dunn, and Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith, who remains listed as an apprentice, are the other uncapped players in the squad. Leicester center Manu Tuilagi, whose last start for England was in June 2014, has been left out as the 26-year-old is out due to injury at Welford Road. Worcester center Ben Te'o is included, despite an ankle injury that has kept him out since October. Amid speculation that Gloucester scrum-half Ben Vellacott might join fellow Scotland international Graham in Jones' 35-strong squad, Jones has opted for only two specialist scrum-halves in Danny Care and Ben Youngs. The Surrey-born 22-year-old, like Graham, played for Scotland at under-20 level, but will only be committed to a country once he plays for a senior second-string side. Boyce has made 12 appearances for Quins since making the step up from the Championship. Boyce has followed the same path as Quins team-mate Care, having been educated at Prince Henry's Grammar School in Otley and played for Yorkshire Carnegie, before moving south for the start of this season. "He is a funny lad, a typical northern lad," Care said. "He is a big strong boy and if he gets the ball he is someone you are going to want to watch. He hits pretty hard in defense as well."

England squad for Six Nations Round 1

Backs

Fullbacks
Mike Brown (Harlequins) Nathan Earle (Saracens)* Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints)* Jonny May (Leicester Tigers) Denny Solomona (Sale Sharks) Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby)

Inside backs
Danny Care (Harlequins) Owen Farrell (Saracens) George Ford (Leicester Tigers) Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby) Alex Lozowski (Saracens) Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs) Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs) Ben Te'o (Worcester Warriors) Marcus Smith (Harlequins) * ** Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Forwards

Back five
Gary Graham (Newcastle Falcons)* Nick Isiekwe (Saracens) Maro Itoje (Saracens) George Kruis (Saracens) Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints) Joe Launchbury (Wasps) Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby)* Chris Robshaw (Harlequins) Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs) Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby)

Front row
Lewis Boyce (Harlequins)* Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers) Tom Dunn (Bath Rugby)* Jamie George (Saracens) Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints) Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs) * Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins) Mako Vunipola (Saracens) Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)

Uncapped * Apprentice player **

Players unavailable
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks) Elliot Daly (Wasps) Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby) Piers Francis (Northampton Saints) Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers) James Haskell (Wasps) Nathan Hughes (Wasps) Joe Marler (Harlequins) Matt Mullan (Wasps) Beno Obano (Bath Rugby) Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath Rugby) Will Spencer (Worcester Warriors) Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

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