lliot Daly has been hailed for playing ‘the best rugby of his life’ after winning a first recall to England in a year.
Saracens utility back Daly was among Steve Borthwick’s England first-team away picks, where Owen Farrell was confirmed as captain.
Daly’s Saracens and England team-mate Jamie George insisted it was ‘madness’ that Daly’s qualities had been overlooked before.
The uncapped quartet Ollie Hassell-Collins, Cadan Murley, Jack Walker and George McGuigan led a series of changes heralded by new boss Borthwick, who took the helm after Eddie Jones was sacked in December.
Daly joined Dan Cole, Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt and Nick Isiekwe among the big stars recalled, while Leicester center Dan Kelly was also selected.
The big omissions meanwhile were No.8 Billy Vunipola, fly-half George Ford and wingers Jack Nowell and Jonny May.
Hooker George insisted 57-cap star Daly fully deserved a recall, explaining, “This guy is amazing. He really just keeps getting better, that’s the thing.
“He was the subject of a lot of criticism when he played for England at times, and it was madness that no one realized how good he was. It’s his all-around game that is absolutely unbelievable.
“He’s playing the best rugby of his life and I’m very, very happy for him because he’s working incredibly hard to be in that position. For him, I know he’s frustrated not to be in the team because he is an ambitious person.
“He is very competitive, he wants to be involved in teams like that. It means a lot to him to play for England. All he can control is putting on performances like that and it will be difficult to be ignored when he plays like this.
“He brings so much, he’s not just a one trick pony. He can play in a lot of different positions as we saw today, he played brilliantly for us at 13 and he was also unbelievable as a full-back, so he’s one of the best.”
Owen Farrell has been included after the RFU clarified his availability for the Six Nations opener against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday February 4.
Borthwick’s England squad will meet next week when preparations for the Six Nations kick off intensify.
“Ellis Genge and Courtney Lawes will be vice-captains and then Owen Farrell will be captain,” Borthwick said. “I’ve known Owen since he was 17 or 18.
“It’s normal for a teenager to be quiet and reserved, Owen is different. He came to the training ground and everyone was impressed with how hard he pushes himself. That’s Owen, that’s what he does and that’s why he captains the England rugby team.
The inclusion of Northampton fly-half Smith was also a surprise, selected ahead of Ford, although the Sale man has returned to full fitness after a long-term injury. Smith, 20, has long been touted as an England prospect and will now compete with Farrell and Marcus Smith for the number 10 shirt.
Billy Vunipola’s absence comes as a big shock, with the Saracens No.8 still in top form and having found a game in the squad when Jones last tested in charge in the fall.
Ben Curry’s inclusion follows his brother Tom’s hamstring injury while on duty at Sale. Northampton lock duo Alex Coles and David Ribbans have also been omitted after both playing under Jones in the fall.
Full England Six Nations squad:
Attackers: O Chessum, D Cole (both Leicester), B Curry (Sale), A Dombandt (Harlequins), B Earl (Saracens), E Genge (Bristol), J George (Saracens), J Heyes (Leicester), J Hill (Dirty), N Isiekwe, M Itoje (both Saracens), C Lawes, L Ludlam (both Northampton), G McGuigan (Gloucester), B Rodd (Dirty), S Simmonds (Exeter), K Sinckler (Bristol), M Vunipola (Saracens), J Walker (Harlequins), J Willis (Toulouse).
Back: E Daly, O Farrell (both Saracens), T Freeman (Northampton), O Hassell-Collins (London Irish), D Kelly (Leicester), M Malins (Saracens), J Marchant (Harlequins), A Mitchell (Northampton) , C Murley (Harlequins), H Slade (Exeter), F Smith (Northampton), M Smith (Harlequins), F Steward (Leicester), M Tuilagi (Sale), J Van Poortvliet, B Youngs (both Leicesters).