ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster insists he never closed the door on veteran Harlequins No8 Nick Easter after ending his international exile yesterday by selecting him in the training squad for the opening Six Nations clash with Wales.
Lancaster has named a 34-man party ahead of the Millennium Stadium curtain-raiser on 6 February which also includes Sale fly-half Danny Cipriani, who earns his first call-up to a Six Nations squad for seven years.
British and Irish Lions Alex Corbisiero, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Tom Youngs and Mako Vunipola also return to the fold after the quintet missed England’s entire autumn programme.
Easter has not played for the Red Rose since England’s quarter-final defeat to France at the 2011 World Cup and offsets the loss of stricken Gloucester No8 Ben Morgan, while Lancaster admits the 36-year-old’s form could not be ignored.
“We’ve always kept an eye on what he’s been doing,” said Lancaster. “Nick has been outstanding for Harlequins and deserves his opportunity to come in and prove that he can replicate that back at international level.
“Nick hasn’t been involved since I started [in 2012] but I think now with Ben Morgan’s injury we need specialist No8s in our squad.”
Lancaster has rejected the notion that Cipriani’s recall represents his last opportunity at Test level and has revealed he will take four fly-halves to the summer World Cup training camp. England have maintained their standpoint of only selecting overseas-based players in exceptional circumstances, a policy which would rule Cipriani out should he join suitors Toulon next season.
“I don’t see where this last chance idea has come from,” added Lancaster. “There’s a pecking order that’s in existence if you like, but we’re very open-minded. It’s a good chance for Danny to come in and put down a marker.”
Bath centre Jonathan Joseph has been called-up to replace Manu Tuilagi, although hopes remain the 23-year-old will recover from a groin problem in time to play some part in the Six Nations.
■ Forwards: Dan Cole, Alex Corbisiero, Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola, David Wilson, Dylan Hartley, Tom Youngs, Dave Attwood, Graham Kitchener, George Kruis, Geoff Parling, Calum Clark, James Haskell, Nick Easter, Chirs Robshaw (cap), Billy Vunipola, Tom Wood
■ Backs: Mike Brown, Alex Goode, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, Brad Barritt, Luther Burrell, Kyle Eastmond, Jonathan Joseph, Billy Twelvetrees, Danny Cipriani, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Stephen Myler, Danny Care, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Youngs