England axe Ashton
London - England have dropped wing Chris Ashton for Saturday's Six Nations opener against France in favour of Exeter's uncapped Jack Nowell, head coach Stuart Lancaster announced on Tuesday.
Ashton played throughout the November Test series, but he was left out of the 26-man squad that will travel to Paris on Thursday, along with British and Irish Lions scrumhalf Ben Youngs.
Nowell will start on the right flank, with Gloucester's Jonny May, who was made only prior appearance, lining up on the left.
"We have been pleased with the form of Chris Ashton recently," Lancaster said.
"However, Jack Nowell has made great progress on the right wing and has also delivered in big games for Exeter. We feel it is the right time to look at another option in that position.
"Chris remains an important member of the squad and I'm sure he'll be working hard to regain that position during the course of the Six Nations."
Youngs's absence means Danny Care of Harlequins is likely to start in the number nine jersey, with Northampton's Lee Dickson on hand to provide cover from the bench.
"Competition at scrum-half has been particularly tight and Danny's form leading into the Six Nations has been excellent and merits his inclusion," Lancaster said.
"Ben misses out this time, but he's a quality player and I'm sure he'll respond in the same way Danny did at the start of the year."
Nowell is joined in the squad by fellow uncapped players Luther Burrell of Northampton and Bath pair George Ford and Anthony Watson.
The final 23-man match-day squad will be named on Thursday, with three players travelling to France in a back-up capacity.
England 26-man squad announced on Tuesday to play France in the Six Nations at Stade de France in Paris on Saturday:
Brad Barritt (Saracens), Mike Brown (Harlequins), Luther Burrell (Northampton), Danny Care (Harlequins), Lee Dickson (Northampton), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath), Alex Goode (Saracens), Jonny May (Gloucester), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Anthony Watson (Bath)
Dave Attwood (Bath), Dan Cole (Leicester), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Ben Morgan (Gloucester), Matt Mullan (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Henry Thomas (Sale), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Tom Wood (Northampton), Tom Youngs (Leicester)