Jones on his squad ahead of NatWest 6 Nations

England head coach Eddie Jones is relishing the return of what he calls one of the “most difficult tournaments" in world rugby.

Jones has named his squad ahead of their opening game of the NatWest Six Nations against Italy (4 February) and believes this year’s tournament will be as competitive as ever.

He also says the number of injuries is a great opportunity for him to test the depth of the squad as England look to retain their title for a third-consecutive year.

“The NatWest 6 Nations is one of the most difficult tournaments in the world,” said Jones.

“This year Wales, Ireland, Scotland and France are regenerated and ready to go. Our first game is against Italy and we know how difficult an opponent they are.

“We’ve had a number of injuries which will test the depth and quality of English rugby but that is a great challenge to have and we are so excited ahead of this tournament.”

Boyce and Mercer

Eight uncapped players have been named in the squad, but Jones is excited ahead of their opening fixture for the inclusion of several young uncapped players including Harlequins prop Lewis Boyce and Bath forward Zach Mercer.

“It’s been another challenge but we took a team to Argentina without 16 Lions players and we’re probably missing up to 12 first-choice squad players, but we’ve been able to put together a good squad, full of experience and enthusiasm,” he said.

“We’ve tried to pick a squad that is strong in set piece and defence as well as an ability to convert opportunities to points. That experience does help.

“Lewis Boyce is a good young, strong prop and he has his opportunity because of injuries to Ellis Genge, Matt Mullan and so he has a chance. He is a good chop tackler, a tough boy and player of the future. 

Jones added: “Zach Mercer has a chance of being selected, especially with the absence of Nathan and Billy. He comes into contention at the No 8 role and we’ve been really impressed with how hard he’s worked at Bath off and on the field in terms of his defence. He is a naturally gifted player in terms of attack and is exciting to watch.”

Exeter back Jack Nowell is named as an inside back, a position that is unfamiliar to him at international level and Jones says outside centre is an area where England are particularly strong.

“Jack Nowell is an option at 13, we have some great options there in Jonathan Joseph, Henry Slade and Ben Te’o.

“Ben Te’o has had good training at Worcester and hopefully he’ll have full training in Portugal and we can get him back on the field.”