NEWCASTLE FALCONS forward Gary Graham is one of eight uncapped players selected in England’s 35-man training squad for next month’s Six Nations opener against Italy.

A succession of injuries and suspensions - including to star players Billy Vunipola, Elliot Daly and Nathan Hughes - have forced Eddie Jones to bring in a host of new faces.

Graham gets the nod after participating in a recent training camp in Brighton, and will be part of a group that will fly to Portugal to prepare for England’s opening Six Nations game in Rome on February 4.

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The 25-year-old only joined Falcons from Jersey last summer, and while he is yet to be capped at full international level, he has made quite an impression during his first five months in the Aviva Premiership.

“It’s great news for Gary that he has been retained in the England squad after training with them a couple of weeks ago,” said Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards. “Hopefully, he will get some minutes on the field during the Six Nations and we will begin to see more of our players called up by the England management in future.”

Graham is joined in the forward ranks by fellow England newcomers Alec Hepburn, Lewis Boyce, Zach Mercer and Tom Dunn.

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

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 training camp.

“I've selected the strongest available squad to prepare for our opening match against Italy,” said Jones, who on Wednesday signed a contract extension until 2021. "It's important we start the tournament well and we will spend the next two weeks training smart and really fine-tuning our game plan for the Italy match next month.

“I'm expecting a really positive training camp in Portugal and while we have a few players unavailable through injury or suspension, it has provided opportunity for others who will be desperate to be involved in the Italy game."

England have listed 13 players who would have been selected but for injury or suspension. Of those 13, four are loose-head props - hence the elevation of the 21-year-old Boyce - while Mercer will compete with Sam Simmonds for the vacancy at number eight.

“We've had a number of injuries which will test the depth and quality of English rugby, but that is a great challenge to have and we are so excited ahead of this tournament," Jones said. “Lewis Boyce is a good young, strong prop and he has his opportunity because of injuries to Ellis Genge, Matt Mullan and so he has a chance. He is a good chop tackler, a tough boy and player of the future.

“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."