ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster insists the experience of veteran No8 Nick Easter could prove pivotal as his side bid to make the perfect Six Nations start in Friday’s opener with Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
Easter is among 25 players recalled ahead of the clash in Cardiff and is set to be named on the bench when Lancaster announces his matchday squad this morning, ending the forward’s three-and-a-half year stint in the international wilderness.
The 36-year-old last featured for the Red Rose during their 2011 World Cup quarter-final defeat to France in Auckland and it will represent his first national call-up since Lancaster took the England reins from Martin Johnson in 2012.
The Harlequins powerhouse is set to provide back-row cover, with Saracens’ Billy Vunipola expected to return to the starting XV at No8 after being dropped for England’s final two autumn internationals.
“While we have certain players unavailable through injury, it’s great to be able to welcome back guys who missed the QBE internationals such as Dan Cole, Mako Vunipola and Tom Youngs,” said Lancaster.
“Their experience, alongside that of players like Tom Croft and Nick Easter, will be invaluable against a strong Welsh team.”
Sale’s Danny Cipriani is also expected to complete his international renaissance and be named on the England bench, while Bath centre Jonathan Joseph is set to feature for the first time since the 2013 tour to Argentina. Fly-half Cipriani made two substitute appearances against New Zealand on England’s summer tour although his last outing in a Six Nations match came against Ireland in 2008.
A serious ankle injury, indifferent form and a number of off-field controversies saw his England career stall, but he is included in the 25-man party ahead of Northampton’s Stephen Myler and is set to provide No10 cover for George Ford.