RC Toulon’s Australian wing James O’Connor (C) is takled by Sale Sharks’ full-back Mike Haley (L) and wing Paolo Odogwu (R) during the European Rugby Champions Cup rugby union round 2 match between Sale Sharks and Toulon at AJ Bell Stadium in Barton-upon-Irwell, Salford, northwest England on Octobe 21, 2016. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP)

Uncapped backs Paolo Odogwu and Harry Randall were both included in reigning champions England’s 28-man squad for the Six Nations Championship announced Friday.

Odogwu has impressed at centre and wing for Wasps this season.

The 23-year-old could also represent Italy through his father but that option will be closed if England coach Eddie Jones caps Odogwu during the Six Nations.

Scrum-half Randall, also 23, has won rave reviews for his form with Bristol.

Although born in England, the Red Rose Under-20 international was also eligible for Wales at senior level after growing up in the Amman Valley.

It is the first time either of the two backs have been included in an England squad and their selection comes despite Jones being restricted to picking only 28 players as part of increased Covid-19 safety measures.

Experienced prop Kyle Sinckler, who is suspended for England’s opener at home to Scotland on February 6 after swearing at a referee, has not been included in either the main squad or a shadow group of 12 players.

Sinckler, however, could return when he has served his ban.

– ‘Vibrant squad’ –

Jonathan Joseph, who made four starts late last year for England as they wrapped up the Six Nations and won the Autumn Nations Cup, has dropped down into the shadow squad to make room for Odogwu, with centre/fly-half Owen Farrell again named captain of the senior side by veteran Australian coach Jones.

Up front, Newcastle flanker Mark Wilson has been chosen ahead of Jack Willis, with injured prop Mako Vunipola unable to join brother Billy, while Courtney Lawes returns to England duty following ankle surgery. 

“We’re really excited by the players we’ve got. It’s a very vibrant squad,” said Jones, who has been self-isolating after forwards coach Matt Proudfoot tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We’re very grateful to Premiership Rugby, the clubs and the RPA (Rugby Players’ Association) for allowing us to have 28 players throughout the tournament. We’re very happy with the number.

“Ultimately our goal is to win the Six Nations and to do that we’ll need to work hard, prepare well each day and take it as it comes.”

The fall-out from a new, more transmissible strain of the coronavirus in Britain and Ireland, means the Calcutta Cup clash against Scotland at Twickenham is set to be played behind closed doors.

England squad

Backs: Elliot Daly (Saracens), Owen Farrell (Saracens, capt), George Ford (Leicester), Ollie Lawrence (Worcester), Max Malins (Bristol), Jonny May (Gloucester), Paolo Odogwu (Wasps), Harry Randall (Bristol) Dan Robson (Wasps), Henry Slade (Exeter), Anthony Watson (Bath), Ben Youngs (Leicester)

Forwards: Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), Tom Curry (Sale), Ben Earl (Bristol), Ellis Genge (Leicester), Jamie George (Saracens), Jonny Hill (Exeter), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Beno Obano (Bath), Will Stuart (Bath), Sam Underhill (Bath), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter), Mark Wilson (Newcastle)

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Feb 06: v Scotland, Twickenham, London (1645)

Feb 13: v Italy, Twickenham (1415)

Feb 27: v Wales, Principality Stadium, Cardiff (1645)

Mar 13: v France, Twickenham (1645)

Mar 20: v Ireland, Lansdowne Road, Dublin (1645)

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© Agence France-Presse