England call up Vainikolo but axe Lewsey and Farrell for RBS Six Nations

Last updated at 12:43 09 January 2008

England boss Brian Ashton has sprung a major surprise in his 32-man RBS 6

Nations squad by selecting former Bradford Bulls rugby league star Lesley


Vainikolo, who qualifies for England on residency grounds, signed a three-year contract with Guinness Premiership leaders Gloucester last summer.

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He is the Premiership's top try scorer this season, and possesses explosive

finishing skills.

But Vainikolo's selection will court controversy, especially as players such as

Josh Lewsey and James Simpson-Daniel have been omitted.

Vainikolo's fellow rugby league recruit Andy Farrell misses out, and there is

also no place for Leicester centre Dan Hipkiss.

The uncapped players are Vainikolo, Wasps fly-half Danny Cipriani, Sale

scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and Leicester flanker Tom Croft.

England World Cup captain Phil Vickery is retained as skipper.

Vainikolo is currently in New Zealand, having flown back home last week to deal

with what Gloucester termed a "serious family problem."

It is the second time this season he has returned home after his brother passed

away before Christmas.

Whether Ashton will unleash Vainikolo on the Six Nations opener against Wales

at Twickenham on February 2 is unclear.

David Strettle and Paul Sackey would appear to be away and clear as

first-choice wing contenders, and it could be Vainikolo will have to content

himself with just being part of the squad.

Bath centre Olly Barkley is another casualty, but Gloucester centre Mike

Tindall and Sale Sharks fly-half Charlie Hodgson - who both missed the World Cup

campaign - are both back in favour.

There is disappointment, though, for several of England's promising young


The likes of Nick Abendanon, Jordan Crane, Nick Kennedy, Luke Narraway, Tom

Varndell and Ryan Lamb are in the England Saxons - formerly England A - squad.

The Saxons play Ireland A at Leicester on February 1, and Italy A in Sicily

eight days later.

Six members of England's 2007 World Cup squad have not made it, on top of

retired quartet Jason Robinson, Mike Catt, Martin Corry and Lawrence Dallaglio.

They are Lewsey, Farrell, Hipkiss, Barkley, Shaun Perry (injured) and Perry


Ashton said Tonga-born Vainikolo possessed "a wow factor" and he had noted

his impressive transition from the 13-a-side code.

"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," he said.

"He is the top try scorer in the Guinness Premiership this season, and he has

got an X factor.

"He is an incredibly strong, explosive player. He has good footwork and is a

threat all over the field.

"He's also an intelligent footballer - he is a pretty good all-round


Ashton also revealed he had no hesitation in retaining Vickery as captain.

He added: "We came through a difficult year together last year. Phil Vickery

stood by me, and I've stood by him.

"We need some continuity and stability during the next six months, and Phil is

the ideal guy for that."

Ashton confirmed that five players were not considered because of injury -

Perry, Leicester scrum-half Harry Ellis, Gloucester full-back Olly Morgan, Sale

Sharks' Ben Foden and Bristol number eight Dan Ward-Smith.

Twenty of the original 30-man England World Cup squad are retained, while 17 of

the World Cup final 22 on duty against South Africa in Paris almost three months

ago feature.

Ashton said: "The Six Nations is always a difficult tournament because it is

very unpredictable, and I imagine this season will be no different.

"There will be a fairly strong resolve among these players that we maintain

the momentum we built up during the World Cup."

As for the squad omissions like Lewsey and Farrell, Ashton added: "The door is

not closed on anyone at all, apart from those (retired) who have closed it on


England 32-man squad for RBS 6 Nations Championship

Backs: I Balshaw (Gloucester), D Cipriani (Wasps), M Cueto (Sale Sharks), T Flood (Newcastle), A Gomarsall (Harlequins), C Hodgson (Sale Sharks), J Noon (Newcastle), P Richards (London Irish), P Sackey (Wasps), D Strettle (Harlequins), M Tait (Newcastle), M Tindall (Gloucester), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), L Vainikolo (Gloucester).

Forwards: S Borthwick (Bath), T Croft (Leicester), G Chuter (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), N Easter (Harlequins), J Haskell (Wasps), B Kay (Leicester), L Mears (Bath), L Moody (Leicester), T Payne (Wasps), T Rees (Wasps), M Regan (Bristol), S Shaw (Wasps), A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), M Stevens (Bath), P Vickery (Wasps, capt), J Worsley (Wasps).