Marcos Ayerza is stunned England can afford to overlook “world-class” hooker Tom Youngs for the RBS Six Nations.
Leicester hooker Youngs was omitted from new England head coach Eddie Jones’ first Elite Player Squad (EPS), with rival Dylan Hartley taking the Test captaincy.
Saracens’ Jamie George and Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie complete England’s hooking stocks. England will open both the Six Nations and Jones’ tenure by facing Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, and seasoned prop Ayerza has questioned the wisdom of dropping Leicester team-mate Youngs.
“Tom is a world-class player and England have decided to take the luxury of not including him,” Ayerza said. “I cannot believe the decision, to leave out a world-class hooker who works so hard.
“Some of the hookers they have picked, they are not so rated by the best front-rowers in the world. Around the park, working, tackling, Tom’s one of the best in the world.
“It’s very tough. There’s a big question mark from us as to why this has happened, this selection policy.”
Third-placed Leicester host Sale in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership action, with Ayerza admitting Youngs’ unexpected presence will prove a significant bonus. The 65-cap Pumas prop is regarded among the world’s foremost front-rowers, and tipped Youngs to force his way back into England’s plans.
Ayerza was also at pains to point out that Youngs himself has not questioned Jones’ selection, but merely redoubled efforts on his return to Leicester.
“He’s strong, he loves scrummaging, that aspect of his game,” said Ayerza. “He’s an all-round player I think. You can argue maybe his lineout throwing is not always 100 per cent accurate.
“But that’s the only aspect of his game that could be scrutinised. It’s harsh to leave him out, when he’s one of the best around. Tom hasn’t questioned the decision though. He has just put his head down and carried on working, to fight to regain selection to the England camp.
“For us it’s tough to lose players during the Six Nations. Having Tom available for us will only boost us, his presence on the pitch will be very important. It’s a loss for England but for us it’s a huge gain, a key player, especially for this period.”
England’s omission of Tom Youngs is Leicester’s gain, according to Marcos Ayerza. David Rogers/Getty Images
Lock Ed Slater is expected to be fit for the weekend’s Welford Road clash with Sale, at least two weeks ahead of initial schedule. The England forward damaged knee ligaments early last month, but despite his rapid progress Leicester boss Richard Cockerill cannot foresee a Six Nations return.
“Ed just needs a run of games now and fingers crossed he gets some luck,” said Leicester’s rugby director Cockerill. “Hopefully Ed will get a good run of games now and push his claims for the summer tour with England. I don’t think Ed will be involved in the Six Nations.”
Manu Tuilagi remains on course to return from minor hamstring trouble for the trip to Newcastle Falcons on Feb. 12 and could yet feature at the tail of England’s Six Nations campaign.
England could deploy Tuilagi as an inside centre under new boss Jones, and Cockerill is unfazed by his star asset featuring in either midfield role.
“I think Manu can play 12 or 13 equally as well,” said Cockerill of Tuilagi, who has made his name as an outside centre. “I think he’s a far better footballer than people think.
“He’s a quick learner, he doesn’t need to be told twice. Aaron Mauger [Leicester backs coach] is finding out that he picks things up quickly and Manu could play either role.”
ESPN.com – RUGBY