Toby Flood’s decision to pursue a club career in France effectively cost him his England place when he was left out of coach Stuart Lancaster’s 35-man-squad for this year’s Six Nations.
Leicester flyhalf Flood, a veteran of 60 Tests, is set to join French giants Toulouse at the end of this season.
That has led Lancaster, holding to his line not to select overseas-based players, to bring in uncapped Bath stand-off George Ford, in addition to current first-choice No. 10 Owen Farrell, ahead of next year’s World Cup in England.
“I have met Toby Flood several times and told him I really wanted him to stay at Leicester and play for England,” Lancaster said in a Rugby Football Union (RFU) statement.
“He has made a lifestyle choice and we respect that, but given the RFU’s policy of not selecting players based overseas, save for exceptional circumstances, it was important that we allow others such as George Ford to progress,” he added. “I am delighted for George, who is rewarded for his form for Bath.”
Injuries mean that England would be left without center Manu Tuilagi (chest), backrower Tom Croft (knee), wing Marland Yarde (hip), prop Alex Corbisiero (knee), wing Christian Wade (foot), lock Geoff Parling (shoulder), prop David Wilson (calf) and fullback Ben Foden (knee).
Their places have been taken by Luther Burrell (Northampton), Tom Johnson (Exeter), Jonny May (Gloucester), Matt Mullan (Wasps), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Ed Slater (Leicester), Henry Thomas (Sale) and Anthony Watson (Bath) respectively.
However, Lancaster said he was optimistic that some of those sidelined would return in time for the postseason three-Test series away to world champions New Zealand.
“We are hopeful that some of those injured may be available before the end of the Six Nations and certainly for the [summer] New Zealand tour,” he said.
England won four of their five matches in last season’s Six Nations, but finished runners-up to Wales on points difference after suffering a 30-3 thrashing by the eventual champions in a title-decider at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
England were the only European side to beat one of the southern “big three” of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa during last year’s end of year Tests when they defeated the Wallabies 20-13 at Twickenham in November.
Their forwards were impressive during a 30-22 loss to New Zealand later that month.
However, a lack of cutting edge behind the scrum against the All Blacks raised questions about the absence of an obvious “playmaker” in the back division — something many observers believe is a necessary requirement if England are to add a second World Cup title next year, in addition to their 2003 triumph.
Hopes are high that the 20-year-old Ford — coached by his father, Mike, the former England defense head — could be that player although, given Farrell is the Test side’s first-choice goalkicker, the rising star is likely to spend time on the bench initially.
England’s first match of this year’s Six Nations is against France in Paris on Feb. 1.