England coach Stuart Lancaster followed through on his promise to rejuvenate the country’s international side on Wednesday when he picked nine uncapped players in a 32-man squad for rugby’s Six Nations.
With Jonny Wilkinson among those to have retired from internationals since England’s poor World Cup campaign, Lancaster turned to the likes of Saracens flyhalf Owen Farrell, Scarlets No. 8 Ben Morgan and Northampton loose forwards Calum Clark and Phil Dowson.
Lancaster also called up Saracens back Brad Barritt, Northampton scrumhalf Lee Dickson, Harlequins center Jordan Turner-Hall, Harlequins prop Joe Marler and Wasps hooker Rob Webber in a squad showing 15 changes to the last elite squad picked in August.
“We have to pull together as a team quickly,” said Lancaster, who is likely to need a strong tournament showing if his interim appointment is to be made permanent. “We are at the start of a new era. We want to use the Six Nations to develop the next set of players.
Although England needs to retain the Six Nations title to secure a strong seeding for the 2015 World Cup group stage, Lancaster jettisoned experienced players in No. 8 Nick Easter, former captain Mike Tindall and wing Mark Cueto.
The trio did not even make a second-string Saxons squad that included wing Matt Banahan and fullback Delon Armitage, one of the successes of Martin Johnson’s 3½-year tenure as team manager.
The RFU announced the squad with the 20-year-old Farrell referred to as a center, hinting that he could start England’s Feb. 4 opener at Scotland in midfield because of a lack of options in the position.
“He has temperament, his potential is phenomenal, he has presence,” Lancaster said. “He can play at 10, but equally at 12 he looks like he offers us another option. He’s an exciting player for the future.”
Manu Tuilagi is in the squad but injured, Tindall has been dropped and Shontayne Hape was also omitted.
With first-choice No. 10 Toby Flood injured, Charlie Hodgson has been recalled and could be in line for his first appearance since the World Cup warmups against Wales.
Lancaster has already shown his desire to avoid the sort of off-field controversy that afflicted England’s World Cup campaign by declaring Danny Care out of contention following the scrumhalf’s conviction for drink driving.
The coach said he will pick a captain after watching the squad train, with Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw among the contenders to succeed the retired Lewis Moody.
“The most important thing for me is to get the leadership group right,” Lancaster said. “It is a new group. They need to step up and take the lead.
“We want a leadership group that is strong. The ultimate aim is for the players to shape the culture and drive the program.”
Forwards: Mouritz Botha, Calum Clark, Alex Corbisiero, Dan Cole, Tom Croft, Louis Deacon, Phil Dowson, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Lee Mears, Ben Morgan, Tom Palmer, Chris Robshaw, Matt Stevens, Rob Webber, David Wilson, Tom Wood.
Backs: Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Mike Brown, Lee Dickson, Owen Farrell, Toby Flood, Ben Foden, Charlie Hodgson, Joe Simpson, Charlie Sharples, David Strettle, Manusamoa Tuilagi, Jordan Turner-Hall, Ben Youngs