England select Vainikolo

The former New Zealand rugby league winger is picked for the Six Nations.

    Lesley Vainikolo, left, has already represented New
    Zealand in rugby league [GALLO/GETTY]
    Former New Zealand rugby league star Lesley Vainikolo has been named in England's 32-man rugby union squad for the Six Nations championship.

    The 28-year-old, who was born in Tonga to New Zealand parents, played rugby league for New Zealand but qualifies for England on residency grounds.

    The blockbusting wing switched codes to union at the end of last season, joining Gloucester on a three-year contract from English league side Bradford Bulls.

    Vainikolo, who could also have played union for New Zealand or Tonga, is the English Premiership's top try scorer this season with nine in nine games.

    He scored five on debut for Gloucester in September.

    Vainikolo was included ahead of World Cup winner Josh Lewsey and Gloucester teammate James Simpson-Daniel by coach Brian Ashton.

    "There is a bit of the 'wow factor' there with him," Ashton said of the former Canberra Raiders winger.

    "His transition to the union game has been fairly straightforward. He does not look like a rugby league player playing union."

    Ashton also left out another former rugby league star, Andy Farrell, and Leicester center Dan Hipkiss.

    Joining Vainikolo as uncapped players were Wasps flyhalf Danny Cipriani, Sale scrumhalf Richard Wigglesworth and Leicester flanker Tom Croft.

    Phil Vickery was retained as captain, but former captains Martin Corry, Jason Robinson, Mike Catt and Lawrence Dallaglio, who have 275 caps between them, are absent following their retirement from international rugby after England lost the World Cup final to South Africa in October.

    Ashton said those who were not picked should not be disheartened.

    "The door is not closed on anyone at all, apart from those who have closed it on themselves," Ashton said.

    England's Six Nations opener is against Wales at Twickenham on Feburary 2.

    England squad:

    Backs: Iain Balshaw, Danny Cipriani, Mark Cueto, Toby Flood, Andy Gomarsall, Charlie Hodgson, Jamie Noon, Peter Richards, Paul Sackey, David Strettle, Mathew Tait, Mike Tindall, Richard Wigglesworth, Jonny Wilkinson, Lesley Vainikolo.

    Forwards: Steve Borthwick, Tom Croft, George Chuter, Louis Deacon, Nick Easter, James Haskell, Ben Kay, Lee Mears, Lewis Moody, Tim Payne, Tom Rees, Mark Regan, Simon Shaw, Andy Sheridan, Matt Stevens, Phil Vickery, Joe Worsley.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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