England Rugby’s most capped man Ben Youngs has been dropped from the national side’s squad ahead of this week’s round two Six Nations clash against Italy at Twickenham Stadium.
The Leicester Tigers scrum-half made his 122nd appearance when he came off the bench in England’s Calcutta Cup loss to Scotland at the weekend. Youngs, 33, joins established English winger Anthony Watson and youthful back row Ben Curry in being left out of Steve Borthwick’s 29-man squad.
The omission of the No9 leaves the door open for Northampton Saints’ Alex Mitchell to add to his single international cap, as just one of two scrum-halves, alongside Jack van Poortvliet, retained in Borthwick’s squad.
The training squad, which will be cut to 23 players before Sunday’s meeting with the Azzurri, includes uncapped fly-half Fin Smith as England seek a solution to their midfield conundrum. It is widely expected that the head coach will drop either Marcus Smith or Owen Farrell to the bench.
Saints’ Smith and Harlequins hooker Jack Walker are the only uncapped players in the squad.
Borthwick’s tenure as England head coach got off to a rocky start with his side losing to Scotland but they could still win the Six Nations and will be hoping their campaign can get back on track against Italy on Sunday.
The Azzurri, who came close to a sensational win over France in Rome last week but fell just short, will head to London looking to shock England, whom they have never beaten.
Elsewhere Wales travel to Scotland and Ireland host France.