Lancaster gambles ahead of Wales test
Should fortune favour the brave, England's interim coach Stuart Lancaster could be in for the most satisfying of Twickenham debuts.
But if Six Nations rugby is more about the more prosaic virtues of experience, form and proven ability, Saturday's meeting with Wales might just turn out to be a little less pleasant.
In making four changes to the team who started against Italy in Rome a fortnight ago, Lancaster has also shown he does not mind taking a gamble.
Almost half his side will be making their first appearances for England at Twickenham. He has a combination at nine and 10 that have never played together before, nor started in those positions at international level, and a centre pairing that is entirely untried.
Manu Tuilagi (left) and Brad Barritt are Lancaster's new centre combination. Photo: Getty
Charlie Hodgson's finger injury gave Lancaster no choice but to change his fly-half. Hodgson could neither catch nor pass a ball in his fitness test on Thursday morning.
While England number 10s of the past forged successful international careers without needing to worry about the latter, the current coach wants more.
More conservative men would then have plumped for Toby Flood's 46 caps and 233 international points.
However, Lancaster, reasoning that Owen Farrell is more familiar with the team's patterns and plays and should be tested out at 10 at some point, opted for the 20-year-old Saracen instead. And when Farrell came in from centre, it left a hole for the returning Manu Tuilagi to fill.
There is less surprise in first full caps for Ben Morgan and Lee Dickson. Both impressed when coming on as replacements against Scotland and Italy, and their selection ahead of Phil Dowson and Ben Youngs at eight and nine is the least contentious call Lancaster has had to make.
"What makes it a lot easier is being in a training environment when you feel completely comfortable," says the upbeat Morgan. "It makes it really easy to step up."
The 26-year-old Dickson's only experience of Twickenham came at a much younger age, losing there as a schoolboy in the final of the Daily Mail Cup before winning a sevens tournament a few years later.
"I've wanted to do this since I was a kid," he emphasises. "I've had two games on the bench, now it's time for me to step up and start.
"I've taken the downs and worked really hard off the pitch, on the game management side. I owe a lot to Stuart for finally giving me this chance to play for England."
Much talk in the build-up to Saturday's clash has been of the attacking threat posed by Wales' rampaging giants in the backs. For the first time in almost quarter of a century the visitors will come to Twickenham as favourites.
Yet in England's new centre pairing of Brad Barritt and Tuilagi, there is both defensive strength and attacking menace.
"Wales have massive backs so this is the game you want to play in," says Tuilagi breezily. "For me playing rugby I always have the mind-set of being physical."
Tuilagi, England's stand-out player in the World Cup, knows first-hand what Farrell can do; the pair played together in the national under-18s side. Neither does he worry too much about the tactical nuances of his new partnership.
"For me I just want to get the ball in my hands and run," he added. "Rugby's simple - just keep the ball and score points."
Geoff Parling, in for his full debut in place of Tom Palmer in the second row, will perhaps appreciate his chance more than most.
After injuring his neck on England's tour of Australasia in the summer of 2010, he then tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first minute of his comeback match after being tackled by his current England skipper Chris Robshaw. That single minute was all the rugby he played all year.
"I've been waiting for this for quite some time," he admitted with a smile. "I found out last week, and didn't even tell my wife until the weekend."
If Palmer can feel a little hard done by, starting the first two games and not even making the bench for the third, his demotion is a clear sign that Lancaster, as well as being happy to take risks, will also not shirk the big decisions.
On the day that former Springboks and Italy coach Nick Mallett reportedly admitted to applying for the permanent England head coach role, it is a trait that can only bolster the stand-in's long-term credentials.