England coach Eddie Jones watches his players warm-up before a match. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/BackpagePix

LONDON - Eddie Jones joked his England side "might as well not turn up" to the Six Nations Championship after injuries and suspensions left the reigning champions without 13 players ahead of next month's tournament opener against Italy.

Jones named a 35-man squad featuring eight uncapped players on Thursday for the Rome match on February 4.

Injuries and suspensions have robbed Jones of several senior figures, with wing Elliot Daly (ankle) and No 8 Billy Vunipola (shoulder) set to miss the entire tournament.

England's back-row problems extend beyond Vunipola.

Nathan Hughes is currently sidelined with a knee injury while James Haskell has been ruled out of the Italy fixture and the following week's clash against Wales because of a suspension received while on club duty -- as has prop Joe Marler.

England, unlike rival nations such as Ireland, do not centrally contract their players, who are primarily paid by their clubs.

Yet the fact remains that since Jones took charge following the then hosts' first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup, England have won 22 out of 23 Tests and they are now bidding to become the first team to win three successive outright Championship titles.

"If you read the papers, then we might as well not turn up," Jones told reporters at Twickenham on Thursday.

"I don't even know why we're having this press conference," added the Australian after unveiling his first England squad since the Rugby Football Union (RFU) announced his contract was being extended until 2021 -- two years beyond its original cut-off point following next year's World Cup in Japan. 

"Ireland are dominating Europe, their sides are going well. They have this central contracting system that allows them to have their players at their peak.

"As you've seen, we've got 13 players out. So we've got no hope."

England, however, are 10/11 odds-on favourites with leading British betting firm William Hill. Jones, on a more serious note, said: "I'm not bookmaker but I know we have a squad that's good enough.

"We've had good practice (at being without players) over the last 12 months.

"At the end of the day, we've named a squad of 35 and there are still a lot of good players being left out."

Following this weekend's club fixtures, the England squad will travel to Portugal for a week-long training camp before reconvening at their Pennyhill Park training base on January 29.

Although there are several newcomers, the rest of Jones's squad, that includes regular Test captain Dylan Hartley, have 898 Test caps between them.

Tuilagi waits

There was no place on Thursday for Manu Tuilagi. The powerhouse Leicester centre is currently making his way back from a knee problem, the latest of several injuries that have blighted his club and England career.

"I'd like to see him get fit," explained Jones. "I think Leicester would like to see him get fit. If he does that, he'll be a chance to get selected."

England have won all 23 of their previous Tests against Italy but former Australia and Japan coach Jones believes the Azzurri will prove difficult a stern challenge at Rome's Olympic Stadium.

"They're a well-coached side. (Conor) O'Shea and (Brendan) Venter have done a good job. I thought they played some much better rugby in November," Jones said.

"In their last game against South Africa the 20-minute mark was 7-6 and they had South Africa under pressure."

"They weren't able to sustain that (Italy lost 35-6) but they are having more control over their players so for the Six Nations they should be fitter, which has traditionally been one of their problems.

"It will be a tough old game."

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