By Ali Stokes
Chris Ashton and Michael Rhodes have been included in England's 44-man pre-season training squad named by Eddie Jones earlier today, in which captain Dylan Hartley will also return to the national side after an extended rest period enforced by concussion sustained during the 2018 Six Nations campaign.
The return of Sale Sharks wing/fullback Ashton comes following a hat-trick during the Barbarians 63-45 victory over England at Twickenham last May. The former Saracens man - who spent the last season in France with Toulon - last played for England in 201 during the national side's tour of New Zealand.
Rhodes - who arrived from South Africa in 2015 - qualified for England through residency and could make his Test debut during England's November internationals. Fellow Saracens forward Joel Kpoku also enjoys his first senior squad call-up after playing a major role in the u20's Junior World Cup campaign, in which the side lost to their French counterparts in the final. At 6ft4" and 124kg at just 19-years-old, the powerful youngster is the latest in a host of rising young stars Jones has brought into their senior side, aiming to fast track their international careers.
Kpoku's u20 teammates Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins) and Jordan Olowofela (Leicester Tigers) are also included in the 44-man-squad after impressing in France.
Hurricanes captain, England summer tourist and soon to be Wasps backrow Brad Shields has been left out of the 44-man-squad after playing in all three Tests in South Africa and starting the second Test in Bloemfontein this summer. Rhodes, Newcastle Falcons' Mark Wilson and former captain Chris Robshaw have all been selected as options at blindside flanker ahead of Shields, who will arrive in England to link with Wasps later this month.
England's most capped scrum-half in history Danny Care has also been left out of the training squad, having been left at home in June following a poor run of form and Jones' claims that the Harlequins man needed rest following a heavy workload during the regular season.
Will Spencer (Tigers), Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors), Joe Marchant (Harlequins) and Joe Cokanasiga (Bath) all enjoy squad inclusions, looking to rid themselves of the 'fringe player' tag.
“This is a pre-season camp so a lot of our players, particularly the ones who went on the South African tour, have just started training with their clubs so it’s just a chance to get a group of players together to have a chat about the season ahead and look at the important areas in developing the team," said Jones.
"With just over 12 months until the Rugby World Cup, it is an important time.
"We haven’t selected everyone. There are a number of players we rested from the tour that we have allowed to continue their pre-season with their clubs.
"This camp is all about individual preparation, it’s about looking to see how we can help each of the players improve, how we can help with their selection for the national team, because we have 44 players coming in plus another 15 who are strongly in contention for the Quilter Internationals in November."
Jones added: “We have one day of training at this camp, a September camp, then a week before the South Africa game so every minute counts. We want to make sure we use every minute as productively as we can so that is the target."
After finishing in fifth place (the lowest in 50 years) in this year's Six Nations and losing their summer tour of South Africa 2-1, Jones' charges will train this weekend at the Lensbury Hotel in Teddington.
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