LONDON (Reuters) - Northampton flanker Calum Clark, who recently returned from a 32-week ban for breaking an opponent’s arm, and Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees were included in England’s 33-man Elite Player Squad (EPS) on Wednesday.
The uncapped duo were the stand-out names in the squad revealed by coach Stuart Lancaster as he continues his preparation for the Six Nations championship which begins next month.
Clark, 23, a former captain of the England under-20 team, seemed on course for his senior debut last year until his ban for breaking the elbow of Leicester’s Rob Hawkins in the LV Cup final.
Initially 64 weeks, the ban was cut after his guilty plea and he returned to action in November.
Twelvetrees, 24, has looked good in his first season at Gloucester after moving from Leicester and his partnership with flyhalf Freddie Burns gives England a creative option too often lacking in recent seasons.
Lock Joe Launchbury, England’s player of the series in November when he made his debut, hooker Tom Youngs, prop Mako Vunipola and Burns were also officially added to the list having featured in November.
As their appearances show, inclusion in the EPS squad is not a necessity for selection and Lancaster has a great deal of flexibility when it comes to moving people in and out.
David Strettle returns in place of Charlie Sharples as Lancaster seeks to nail down a regular left winger, while James Haskell is also back in, taking the place of Phil Dowson, who made his debut a year ago in Lancaster’s first game in temporary charge.
Flanker Tom Croft is also back having recovered from long-term injury but as he is just feeling his way back into the game he is unlikely to feature in the Six Nations, at least the early rounds.
“The EPS squad is the start point for selection, not the end, as we saw in the autumn with players coming though from the Saxons,” Lancaster told a news conference in Leeds, northern England, after also announcing a new Saxons squad.
”This is a very important year for England, with the Six Nations and the Saxons games to look forward to so there are some great opportunities for the players to demonstrate their club form at international level.
“The summer tour to Argentina will also be a great chance for those players pushing for a place, especially with some of our senior squad hopefully going with the Lions, and chances will undoubtedly arise as we hope to play two midweek games as well as the two Tests.”
England begin their Six Nations campaign at home to Scotland on February 2.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, Editing by Clare Fallon