Six Nations 2020: Jack Willis and Jacob Umaga named in England's squad

By Chris JonesBBC rugby union correspondent
Jack Willis celebrates
Jack Willis was voted the Rugby Players' Association players' player of the year earlier in October
Guinness Six Nations: Italy v England
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome Date: Saturday, 31 October Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 Live with live text on BBC Sport website and app
Highlights: Watch on BBC Sport website and app after the match.

Wasps flanker Jack Willis has been rewarded for his outstanding club form with a call-up to the England squad.

Willis's club-mates Jacob Umaga and Dan Robson have also been named in a 36-man squad for England's autumn matches.

Exeter's double-winning lock Jonny Hill has also been selected, but there is no place for Chiefs fly-half Joe Simmonds.

England could seal the Six Nations title with a bonus-point win against Italy on Saturday if the result of France v Ireland goes their way.

Eddie Jones' side will then play four games in the Autumn Nations Cup.

The game in Rome will be their first fixture in more than seven months after the meeting with the Barbarians last Sunday was called off after several players breached Covid protocols.

"We were obviously disappointed with the postponement of the Barbarians game but we moved to plan B, had a highly competitive training session instead of the match and now we are fully focused on the Italy game and the goal of winning the Six Nations," said Jones.

'I've done about 8,000 miles going to watch players'

Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie has been ruled out through injury, as has club-mate Jack Nowell, while Northampton lock Courtney Lawes and Sale centre Manu Tuilagi are also long-term absentees.

Meanwhile Elliot Daly, George Ford and Joe Marler are also out of the game in Rome, with Ford's absence handing Umaga the chance of a first cap.

"With nine players out injured, it does create some opportunities for the younger guys to show what they can do," added Jones.

Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence, who was set to make his first England appearance against the Barbarians, is one of nine uncapped players in the squad, alongside Umaga, Hill and Willis, Bristol's Max Malins, Gloucester's Ollie Thorley, Bath's Tom Dunn and Beno Obano and Northampton lock David Ribbans.

Brothers Sam and Joe Simmonds, who have been key in Exeter's rise to becoming Premiership and European champions, were left out.

Jones said he had spoken to number eight Sam and fly-half Joe about their omission "to make sure they have an understanding of the situation".

Jones continued: "There are people out there who think certain players should be in and people who think certain players shouldn't be. It's my judgement call with the coaches.

"We do due diligence - I've done about 8,000 miles over the last three months going to watch players live, watching what they do in the warm-up, watching every bit of play and we've come to the decision that this is the best 36.

"There are a number of good players out there who will be massively disappointed and they are two of them."

Wasps duo rewarded

Willis was selected for England's tour of South Africa in 2018, before a serious injury robbed him of a chance of a first cap.

However, the 23-year-old has recovered to play a stand-out role in Wasps' march to the Premiership final in the 2019-2020 season, winning an astonishing 46 turnovers over the course of the campaign, and scooping the Rugby Players' Association Player of the Season award, the Breakthrough Player of the Season award, and the Premiership Rugby Player of the Season award.

"We've been watching his progress and he's a good, jumping number six who carries well and contests hard," Jones said.

"He has a good work attitude about him. He's a really old fashioned number six."

The 22-year-old Umaga has also enjoyed a fruitful season at his club, usurping All Blacks fly-half Lima Sopoaga as the starting 10 at the Ricoh and winning a call-up to England's Six Nations squad earlier this year.

The son of former Samoa international Mike and nephew of New Zealand great Tana, Umaga has represented England at Under-20s level and now is in line for full international honours.

"Jacob is a young guy at 10 who attacks the line and has plenty of courage in the way he plays. He's a solid defender and is one of the reasons why Wasps did so well," added Jones.

"We had him in camp earlier in this Six Nations and we were impressed by what he did, so we're looking forward to working with him again."

England squad

Backs: Cokanasiga, Farrell, Furbank, Heinz, Joseph, Lawrence, Malins, Marchant, May, Robson, Slade, Thorley, Umaga, Watson, Youngs.

Forwards: Curry, Dunn, Earl, Ewels, Genge, George, J Hill, T Hill, Itoje, Launchbury, Ludlam, Obano, Ribbans, Singleton, Sinckler, Stuart, Underhill, B Vunipola, M Vunipola, Williams, Willis.

Six Nations table showing Ireland on 14 points, England on 13, France on 13, Scotland on 10, Wales on 7 and Italy on 0Around the BBC iPlayer bannerAround the BBC iPlayer footer

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