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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 11:31 GMT
Vainikolo named in England squad
Lesley Vainikolo celebrates one of his debut tries against Leeds
Vainikolo scored five tries on his debut for Gloucester in September
England coach Brian Ashton has sprung a major shock by including Tongan Lesley Vainikolo in his Six Nations squad.

The Gloucester wing, 28, who played league for New Zealand but qualifies for England on residency grounds, has scored nine tries in nine union games.

Full-back Josh Lewsey and centre Andy Farrell, both part of the World Cup squad, have been dropped while Tom Croft and Danny Cipriani are included.

Phil Vickery is retained as captain despite doubts over his starting place.

Sale scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth joins Vainikolo, Cipriani and Croft as the uncapped members of the squad.

Other notable omissions from the party that went to the World Cup are Bath fly-half and inside centre Olly Barkley, Perpignan prop Perry Freshwater and Leicester centre Dan Hipkiss.

There is a bit of the wow factor there with him

England coach Brian Ashton on Lesley Vainikolo

Barkley will appear at a committal hearing on 11 February - the Monday after the match against Italy - in connection with a charge of causing actual bodily harm, which he denies.

"Olly is in outstanding form and is playing as well at 12 as he ever has," said Ashton. "I just want this hearing out of the way and then we will start again. It's as simple as that."

Hipkiss has been demoted to the England Saxons squad which includes the likes of Northampton's rugby league recruit Chris Ashton and Gloucester wing James Simpson-Daniel.

Martin Corry, Jason Robinson, Mike Catt and Lawrence Dallaglio - all former England captains with 275 caps between them - have retired from international duty since England's run to the World Cup final last year.

Scrum-half Shaun Perry is out injured but Sale fly-half Charlie Hodgson, Gloucester centre Mike Tindall and club team-mate Iain Balshaw are all fit again and back in favour.

Harlequins wing David Strettle, who impressed in England's defeat to Ireland in the last Six Nations, returns after a broken bone in his foot ruled him out of the World Cup.

Vainikolo's selection continues his explosive impact on the 15-man game following his cross-code switch from the Bradford Bulls to Gloucester in the summer.

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He had proven himself as a prolific finisher with 149 tries in 152 appearances for the Bulls and produced a stunning five-try display when making his debut for Gloucester against Leeds in September.

Vainikolo missed Gloucester's defeat to Bath on Friday as he had to return to New Zealand to deal with what the club termed a "serious family problem".

He also returned home before Christmas after his brother passed away.

"There is a bit of the wow factor there with him. His transition to the union game has been fairly straightforward - he does not look like a rugby league player playing union," said England coach Brian Ashton.

"He is the top try scorer in the Guinness Premiership this season. He is an incredibly strong, explosive player and can also be a bit of a scary defender if you do not see him coming. He is a threat all over the field.

"He has got an X factor. He is different, we ain't ever seen an England winger like him - that's for sure."

Wasps fly-half Cipriani is one of the brightest prospects in the Premiership and earlier this week his club skipper Dallaglio endorsed the 20-year-old's claims after a series of impressive displays.

Leicester flanker Tom Croft scored two tries against Harlequins last weekend
Croft has been in barnstorming form for Leicester this season

With back-rowers Corry and Dallaglio now out of the picture, Croft and Wasps flanker James Haskell get their chance to stake a first-team spot.

Ashton has resisted the temptation to change his skipper despite Vickery coming under pressure from in-form Bath prop Matt Stevens for the tight-head position.

Vickery, who was handed a two-game ban during the World Cup, has played little rugby in the past month due to injury and suspension.

"I stood by Phil Vickery and Phil Vickery's stood by me," said Ashton. "We need stability and continuity and he's ideally placed to offer that."

The international career of Saracens centre Andy Farrell is now almost certainly over after his omission from the squad.

The 32-year-old former Wigan and Great Britain rugby league captain, who switched codes in 2005 in a deal funded by Saracens and the Rugby Football Union, was named in the World Cup squad but after injury ruled him out of the quarter-final against Australia, he did not feature again.

Lewsey had started every game in the World Cup, scoring the only try in the semi-final victory over France, but was ruled out of the final after suffering a hamstring injury.

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With Ashton viewing him as a wing rather than full-back, Lewsey loses out to Vainikolo, Strettle, Mark Cueto and Paul Sackey in the 32, with Simpson-Daniel and Tom Varndell - both in the Saxons squad - also pushing hard.

"We have got some very good young and middle-aged players in Josh's position - there are some pretty high-quality guys there," added Ashton.

"It's one position where I could afford to look a bit further down the line at the moment."

England open their Six Nations campaign against Wales at Twickenham on 2 February.


England squad:
Backs: Balshaw (Gloucester), Cipriani (Wasps), Cueto (Sale Sharks), Flood (Newcastle), Gomarsall (Harlequins), Hodgson (Sale Sharks), Noon (Newcastle), Richards (London Irish), Sackey (Wasps), Strettle (Harlequins), Tait (Newcastle), Tindall (Gloucester), Wigglesworth (Sale), Wilkinson (Newcastle), Vainikolo (Gloucester).
Forwards: Borthwick (Bath), Croft (Leicester), Chuter (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), Easter (Harlequins), Haskell (Wasps), Kay (Leicester), Mears (Bath), Moody (Leicester), Payne (Wasps), Rees (Wasps), Regan (Bristol), Shaw (Wasps), Sheridan (Sale), Stevens (Bath), Vickery (Wasps, capt), Worsley (Wasps).

England Saxons squad for games against Ireland A and Italy A in February:
Backs: Abendanon (Bath), Allen (Gloucester), Armitage (London Irish), Arscott (Bristol), Ashton (Northampton), Brown (Harlequins), Care (Harlequins), Dickson (Newcastle), Geraghty (London Irish), Hipkiss (Leicester), Hodgson (London Irish), Lamb (Gloucester), Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), O Smith (Leicester), Varndell (Leicester).
Forwards: A Brown (Gloucester), Blaze (Leicester), A Clarke (Bristol), Crane (Leicester), Dowson (Newcastle), Hartley (Northampton), Hobson (Bristol), Kennedy (London Irish), Lipman (Bath), Lund (Sale Sharks), Narraway (Gloucester), Paice (London Irish), Palmer (Wasps), Titterrell (Gloucester), Wilson (Newcastle), Wood (Gloucester), B Woods (Newcastle).



SEE ALSO
Vainikolo tipped as England star
09 Jan 08 |  English
2008 Six Nations fixtures
11 Jan 07 |  Fixtures
Corry retires from England duty
08 Jan 08 |  English
Ashton gets support of Wilkinson
10 Dec 07 |  Rugby Union
England 6-15 South Africa
20 Oct 07 |  Rugby Union


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