Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell seems set to start for England in Saturday’s Six Nations opener against France after head coach Stuart Lancaster revealed his decision to drop Chris Ashton.
Uncapped Nowell, 20, is most likely to feature on the right wing in Paris, with Jonny May of Gloucester, with only one Test appearance himself, earmarked for the left.
Ashton was selected throughout the autumn almost by default, after injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade limited the options available to Lancaster.
But the head coach’s patience has been exhausted and Ashton, alongside British and Irish Lions scrum-half Ben Youngs, has been omitted from a 26-man squad named by Lancaster yesterday, with Nowell drawing praise for his recent club form and involvement at the England training camp this week.
“We have been pleased with the form of Chris Ashton recently,” Lancaster said. “However, Jack Nowell has made great progress on the right wing and has also delivered in big games for Exeter.
“We feel it is the right time to look at another option in that position.
“Chris remains an important member of the squad and I’m sure he’ll be working hard to regain that position during the course of the Six Nations.”
Also among the 26 bound for the French capital are Nowell’s fellow uncapped three-quarters Luther Burrell, George Ford and Anthony Watson.
Burrell is set to make his debut at outside centre, while Ford and Watson could feature on the bench depending on how Lancaster sets up his replacements.
The 23-man match-day squad will be named tomorrow morning, with three players travelling as cover.
While unsurprising, it is the removal of the once-prolific Ashton from the team that provides the biggest talking point. The emergence of Nowell, May and Watson, however, has given Lancaster the confidence to finally axe the 26-year-old, even if his experience would have been useful at the Stade de France.
Nowell’s rapid rise to the senior ranks is nothing short of remarkable. He played at Cornish Pirates, Redruth and Plymouth Albion on loan before making his first-team debut for Chiefs against Ospreys in October 2011.
Last season, after earning his promotion to the first-team squad at Sandy Park, Nowell was named the LV= Cup Breakthrough Player of the Year, and was nominated for the RPA Young Player of the Year award.
The Truro-born back was a pivotal part of the England Under-20 side which won the IRB Junior World Championship last summer.
After earning rave reviews for his attacking play in France, which included a try in the final defeat of Wales, Nowell was named in the England Saxons squad last August, alongside club-mate Tom Johnson.
Having been rested at the start of this season, Nowell did not feature for his club until November, when he helped Chiefs to a 19-5 LV= Cup defeat of holders Harlequins at Sandy Park.
Since then Nowell has been in fine form, catching the eye of South Africa wing Bryan Habana, among many others, in two notable Heineken Cup displays against Toulon.
Clearly, the England coaching team were also taking note.
England Six Nations Championship squad versus France: Forwards: Attwood (Bath), Cole (Leicester), Hartley (Northampton), Launchbury (Wasps), Lawes (Northampton), Marler (Harlequins), Morgan (Gloucester), Mullan (Wasps), Robshaw (Harlequins), Thomas (Sale), B Vunipola (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), Wood (Northampton), T Youngs (Leicester). Backs: Barritt (Saracens), Brown (Harlequins), Burrell (Northampton), Care (Harlequins), L Dickson (Northampton), Farrell (Saracens), Ford (Bath), Goode (Saracens), May (Gloucester), Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Watson (Bath).