This is probably the strongest England squad I've picked so far – Jones

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Six Nations 2019: Ireland v England
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday 2 February Kick-off: 16:45 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live, highlights on BBC

England boss Eddie Jones believes the squad for the Six Nations opener against Ireland is the strongest he has picked in his time in charge.

The Vunipola brothers and Joe Launchbury are among those to return after missing the November Tests.

While the likes Dylan Hartley and Chris Robshaw are unavailable, the England coach is buoyed by a lack of injuries.

“We have always had good squads but this is probably our strongest squad,” Jones told BBC Sport.

“We have been lucky that we have a number of our senior players back.

“Having guys like Billy and Mako and Joe Launchbury and Ellis Genge back in the forwards adds to the firepower.”

New faces have potential for Test rugby

Ben Earl, Jack Singleton, Dan Robson and Ollie Thorley

While Jones has resisted the urge to widely experiment with the World Cup looming, the Australian has named four uncapped players in the 35-man group, in the shape of forwards Jack Singleton and Ben Earl and backs Dan Robson and Ollie Thorley.

“They all have the potential to play Test rugby,” Jones added.

“Singleton and Earl we have had in the squad previously, Thorley is a young guy who has come out of the clouds. He is a big, strong guy, he is fearless, runs hard and has good pace and good evasion skills.”

Robson has been given the nod over England’s most capped scrum-half Danny Care, with the Wasps half-back set to make his debut in Dublin.

“Robson is someone we have been looking at for a while,” Jones said.

“He is a will-of-the-wisp type half-back. He is competing directly with Danny Care for a spot in the side.

“Danny just has to be at his best. It’s up to him to be at his best, and if he continues to be at his best, we know he is a good player and he’ll find himself back in the team.”

Farrell to resume sole leadership

Owen Farrell

Hooker Hartley is set to be ruled out for England’s first two Six Nations matches at least with his knee problem, meaning Owen Farrell has another opportunity to cement his captaincy credentials.

Farrell led England on the June tour of South Africa last year, before sharing the duties with Hartley in November.

“It’s just a different leadership situation for us. We were very happy with co-captains during November, and now Owen has a chance to do it by himself,” Jones explained.

However, while Farrell’s influence on the England team only continues to grow, Jones insists Hartley will “100%” return to the fold when available, as will flanker and former captain Robshaw.

Mike Brown, meanwhile, has also retained his place in the squad despite not featuring in the autumn, with Jones calling the Harlequins man “still the best defensive full-back in England” who could “100%” start for England again.

England’s Six Nations fixtures
Saturday, 2 February v Ireland (a)
Sunday, 10 February v France (h)
Saturday, 23 February v Wales (a)
Saturday, 9 March v Italy (h)
Saturday, 16 March v Scotland (h)

After winning the Six Nations in 2016 and 2017, England finished a chastening fifth in the tournament last year. However, Jones is confident they are in a better place this time around.

“We are in a very positive situation with good players coming back,” he said.

“But while they are back fit and playing they need to make sure they come up to the grade, because the side has moved on.

“They have their foot in the door, now they have to make sure they walk through it.”

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