ENGLAND head coach Eddie Jones says uncapped Bath back row Zach Mercer could be in contention for a start in the opening NatWest 6 Nations opener against Italy on February 4 after his inclusion in a 35-man squad for that match.

Mercer and fellow Bath forward Tom Dunn were among eight uncapped players named by Jones as a succession of injuries and suspensions - including to star players such Billy Vunipola, Elliot Daly and Nathan Hughes - forced him to bring in a host of new faces.

Saracens wing Nathan Earle, Northampton centre Harry Mallinder and Harlequins full-back Marcus Smith are the rookie backs included.

Mercer is no longer included as an apprentice in recognition of the injuries at number eight to Vunipola and Hughes, leaving Smith as the only player featuring in that capacity.

Jones said: “Zach Mercer has a chance of being selected, especially with the absence of Nathan and Billy.

“He comes into contention at the number eight role and we’ve been really impressed with how hard he’s worked at Bath on and off the field in terms of his defence. He’s a naturally gifted player in terms of attack and is exciting to watch.”

Exeter prop Alec Hepburn, Harlequins prop Lewis Boyce, Newcastle flanker Gary Graham make up the other new faces in the forwards. Bath backs Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph are also named, as is flanker Sam Underhill.

The training squad, which is absent of big-name omissions other than those who are unavailable, will travel to Portugal on Sunday to begin a week-long camp as build up to the trip to Rome.