England wing Chris Ashton dropped for France opener
British and Irish Lions scrumhalf Ben Youngs also omitted from 26-man squad
Chris Ashton of England has been dropped for the opening Six Nations fixture against France. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Ashton was selected throughout the autumn almost by default after injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade limited the options available to head coach Stuart Lancaster.
But Lancaster’s patience has been exhausted and Ashton, alongside British and Irish Lions scrumhalf Ben Youngs, has been omitted from a 26-man squad that will travel to Paris on Thursday night.
The uncapped Nowell will start on the right wing with Jonny May of Gloucester, who has made only one Test appearance, earmarked for the left flank.
“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.”
“Competition at scrum-half has been particularly tight and Danny’s form leading into the Six Nations has been excellent and merits his inclusion,” Lancaster said. “Ben misses out this time but he’s a quality player and I’m sure he’ll respond in the same way Danny did at the start of the year.”
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 on Thursday 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 - and saddest - talking point.
The 26-year-old made a terrific start to a Test career that began in the 2010 Six Nations, scoring 15 tries in his first 18 Tests. However, the next 19 games saw him cross only three times.
The spotlight hovered over his collapse in form throughout last year’s Championship and, having missed out on selection for the Lions tour to Australia, he was given the summer off by Lancaster.
But while rediscovering the scoring touch at Saracens this season, he continued to stagnate in an England jersey throughout the autumn.
The emergence of Nowell, May and Watson has given Lancaster the confidence to finally axe Ashton, even if his experience would have been useful at the Stade de France.
Forwards: David Attwood (Bath), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Joe Launchbury (London Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Ben Morgan (Gloucester), Matt Mullan (London Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers).
Backs: Brad Barritt (Saracens), Mike Brown (Harlequins), Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints), Danny Care (Harlequins), Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath), Alex Goode (Saracens), Jonny May (Gloucester), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Anthony Watson (Bath).