It was one of the hardest squads Eddie Jones has ever had to pick but though he feels England are being cast as underdogs for the Six Nations, he is adamant they have an opportunity to "hunt the other teams down".
With a number of players either injured or suspended, Jones called up eight uncapped contenders to the 35-man squad for their Six Nations opener against Italy on Feb. 4, and claims England are being portrayed as underdogs despite having won back-to-back championship titles.
"We've got 13 players out, we've got no hope," was Jones' tongue-in-cheek take on their Six Nations prospects, but is naturally bullish about their chances ahead of the forthcoming championship despite staying up late on Wednesday evening finalising the squad for Italy.
"This [squad] is version 26," Jones said. "I was still on it at 10.30pm last night, finalising it. It has been one of the most difficult to put together because of the various situations with players.
"I'm really happy with it, excited by our prospects of doing well particularly as been written off. No-one thinks we can win the Six Nations so we have got an opportunity to hunt the other teams down."
There is still one round of the Champions Cup pool stage to go before England head to Portugal for their pre-Six Nations training camp and Jones will be keeping a close eye on those hopeful of featuring in the championship. The English clubs have underperformed in Europe this season, but Jones sees no correlation between their poor form, the impressive performances of the Irish and Welsh teams in Europe and the forthcoming championship.
"With international rugby, you have talent that comes into the room, and once you get in the room it's how hard you work and how much you want it and how much effort you are prepared to put in," Jones said. "These boys have all got talent. There another 35 players in England who have the talent to play international rugby, it's whether they've got the desire, the ability to dig deep when it hurts."
And that's what he wants to see from the 35 in Portugal, though not every player picked will be able to train. Jack Nowell [ankle injury] is unlikely to be able to train fully, and the same goes for Chris Robshaw [back injury], Mike Brown [eye injury] and Alec Hepburn.
Hepburn is one of the eight uncapped players in the squad and England will have an uncapped loose-head on the bench for the Italy with Lewis Boyce the other contender. Both will try and catch Jones' eye in Portugal but Marcus Smith's chances of making his Test debut in the Six Nations appear slim.
Smith is still in the 'apprentice' category within the England squad and Jones wants to see further improvements in his game before he gets a chance at Test level. When asked where Smith has to improve, Jones answered: "Run straight, tackle. It's pretty simple. He must get paid for running sideways... does he? That new contract has it got some clause in it for running sideways?"
Despite the host of new names in the England squad, there will be an element of familiarity about the team that will face Italy. Dylan Hartley will captain England into the championship and he will be one of the 35 put through their paces in what promises to be a gruelling training camp in Portugal.
"Our aim is to win the Six Nations," Jones said. "We feel like we've got a good enough team to win the Six Nations but at the same time we've got a World Cup plan in place. Part of this camp will be about getting players right. The first part of the camp will be fairly untraditional for us. We'll treat it as a mini preseason and we won't start the team training until Thursday and Friday."