England have released eight players back to their clubs ahead of Saturday’s 6 Nations opener against Scotland.
Interim head coach Stuart Lancaster has kept just 24 players in camp as the countdown towards the Calcutta Cup clash intensifies.
Calum Clark, Lee Mears, David Wilson, Dave Attwood, Thomas Waldrom, Alex Goode, Joe Simpson and Matt Banahan have all been released for LV= Cup action at the weekend.
The omission of Clark and Waldrom suggests Scarlets No8 Ben Morgan and Northampton’s Phil Dowson are in line for their debuts as Lancaster has kept just four back rows in the squad, with new captain Chris Robshaw and Lions tourist Tom Croft the others set to return to training at Pennyhill Park this evening.
Saracens midfield duo Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell also look set to win their first international caps, while fellow uncapped centre Jordan Turner-Hall is also retained.
South African-born second row Mouritz Botha could make his first start having being capped as a replacement in the summer Test against Wales. Botha is expected to join Tom Palmer in the boilerhouse, with uncapped Leicester lock Geoff Parling likely to be among the replacements.
Wasps hooker Rob Webber, who yesterday completed a switch to Bath for next sason, is another likely debutant from the bench.
Lancaster will name his starting XV and matchday 22 on Thursday and will need to drop a further two players – most likely a pop and wing or full back – prior to the announmcement.
Reduced England squad
Forwards (13): Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Dan Cole (Leicester), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Matt Stevens (Saracens); Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Rob Webber (Wasps); Mouritz Botha (Saracens), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Geoff Parling (Leicester); Tom Croft (Leicester), Phil Dowson (Northampton), Ben Morgan (Scarlets), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins – capt)
Backs (11): Mike Brown (Harlequins), Ben Foden (Northampton), Chris Ashton (Northampton), Charlie Sharples (Gloucester), David Strettle (Saracens); Brad Barritt (Saracens), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Jordan Turner-Hall (Harlequins); Charlie Hodgson (Saracens); Lee Dickson (Northampton), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Released players: Matt Banahan, Dave Attwood, Alex Goode, Lee Mears, Joe Simpson, Thomas Waldrom, David Wilson