Stuart Lancaster fought to convince Toby Flood not to move to France at the end of the season, the England head coach has confirmed.
Lancaster has omitted Leicester stand-off Flood from his Elite Player Squad, spelling the end of the 60-cap playmaker’s international career. Only “exceptional circumstances” allow the England boss to select overseas-based players, but those have never been used.
Flood will join French Top 14 side Toulouse in the summer, ending five years with Leicester and surrendering the Tigers’ club captaincy.
Lancaster has promoted Bath’s 20-year-old stand-off George Ford in Flood’s place, temporarily adding Northampton’s Stephen Myler to his RBS Six Nations squad, too. Lancaster has backed both new playmakers to capitalise on the opportunities.
“I’m disappointed that Toby’s chosen to play in France next season,” Lancaster said. “I tried to encourage him to stay at Leicester but it’s a great opportunity for George to come in.
“Toby’s been great for us and I respect him and his decision. I’ve got a great relationship with him but he understands our policy.
“I would rather make the decision at this point, 20 months out from a World Cup, to give someone like George Ford or Stephen Myler the chance to show what they can do now.”
Lancaster said Ford’s composure in Saturday’s 27-27 draw at Leicester cemented the youngster’s elevation. Ford has progressed confidently through every England age group, and Lancaster admitted he had been earmarked for full squad elevation for some time.
Myler will train with the full squad, and Lancaster said he has a real chance to muscle into the senior set-up permanently.
“The tipping point was George’s maturity in that game, I thought that was excellent,” said Lancaster. “We’ve known about him for a long time. He had great development at Leicester and has had game time at Bath now. It’s the right time to see what he can do at a higher level. He’s got some competition with Stephen Myler coming in to train with the squad too. His tactical kicking game is excellent, he beats defenders, he defends well and he’s a good goal-kicker too.
“The senior figures at Bath have a huge amount of respect for his game understanding and his maturity. There have been lots of occasions when players have been on the outside then pressed their case.
“Owen Farrell has the shirt at the moment so that’s George Ford’s challenge, to show what he can do.”
Freddie Burns has kept his place in England’s Elite Player Squad, but will turn out for the second-string Saxons against Ireland Wolfhounds at Kingsholm on 25 January.
Lancaster wants to help Burns play himself back into form, after his much-publicised agony over where he will play his rugby next season. Gloucester stand-off Burns will move to Leicester in the summer, and his form slumped while he wrestled with that decision. Lancaster said: “We will play Freddie in the first Saxons game at Gloucester. He’s missed a few games recently, and it’s a chance for him to put a marker down.”
Lancaster has retained eight injured players in his EPS, selecting a vastly-different Six Nations squad. Northampton’s Luther Burrell, Exeter duo Tom Johnson and Jack Nowell, Jonny May from Gloucester and Matt Mullan of Wasps lead the Saxons contingent stepping up to the full squad. Leicester’s Ed Slater, Sale prop Henry Thomas and Bath wing Anthony Watson complete that set.
Props Mullan and Thomas are included as cover for tighthead David Wilson, who has a calf injury that could sideline him for a month. Manu Tuilagi, Tom Croft, Alex Corbisiero, Geoff Parling and Ben Foden are unlikely to play any part in the Six Nations. But Lancaster wants to take all his eight injured players on the summer tour to New Zealand, leading to their retention in the EPS.
Bath hooker Rob Webber and Saracens scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth will also train with the senior squad. “Having Brad [Barritt] back is like having a new player in the squad, especially with all the injuries we’ve had,” added Lancaster.
Six Nations Squad: Forwards: Attwood (Bath), Cole (Leicester), Hartley (Northampton), Kvesic (Gloucester), Johnson (Exeter), Launchbury (Wasps), Lawes (Northampton), Marler (Harlequins), Morgan (Gloucester), Mullan (Wasps), Robshaw (Harlequins), Slater (Leicester), Thomas (Sale Sharks), B Vunipola (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), Webber (Bath), Wood (Northampton), Youngs (Leicester). Backs: Ashton (Saracens), Barritt (Saracens), Brown (Harlequins), Burrell (Northampton), Care (Harlequins), Dickson (Northampton), Eastmond (Bath), Farrell (Saracens), Ford (Bath), Goode (Saracens), May (Gloucester), Myler (Northampton), Nowell (Exeter), Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Youngs (Leicester), Watson (Bath), Wigglesworth (Saracens).
Elite Performance Squad: Forwards: Attwood (Bath), Cole (Leicester), Corbisiero (Northampton), Croft (Leicester), Hartley (Northampton), Kvesic (Gloucester), Launchbury (Wasps), Lawes (Northampton), Marler (Harlequins), Morgan (Gloucester), Parling (Leicester), Robshaw (Harlequins), B Vunipola (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), Wilson (Bath), Wood (Northampton), Youngs (Leicester). Backs: Ashton (Saracens), Barritt (Saracens), Brown (Harlequins), Burns (Gloucester), Care (Harlequins), Dickson (Northampton), Eastmond (Bath), Farrell (Saracens), Foden (Northampton), Ford (Bath), Goode (Saracens), Tuilagi (Leicester), Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Wade (Wasps), Yarde (London Irish), Youngs (Leicester).