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Change in the air for new England

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Tom Fordyce | 16:31 UK time, Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Dig the new breed. If anyone had wondered how much impact a mere interim coach could really have on England rugby, Stuart Lancaster's first squad announcement put them right.

It wasn't just the 15 changes to last August's 32-man elite player squad, the nine uncapped players or the four others who have only one international cap apiece.

With everything from the Leeds venue to his training-ground appearance and the informal atmosphere around him, Lancaster is signalling a very clear break with the discredited past. "This," he said firmly, "is a new era for England."

If there's something not quite right about the house of Lancaster being established in the heart of Yorkshire, this is less about wars of roses and more about battles for hearts and minds - those of England supporters, disenchanted and disenfranchised by the very public sins and failings of the previous regime.

Calum Clark

Calum Clark was a surprise inclusion in England's Six Nations squad. Photo: Getty Images

The words 'World Cup' were barely mentioned. New Zealand didn't get a look-in, let alone Martin Johnson, rogue mouthguards or dwarves.

Instead, the talk was of energy being channelled, pipelines of talent, opportunity and responsibility. It wasn't so much don't look back in anger as don't look back at all.

Johnson's starting XV for last autumn's quarter-final defeat by France featured seven players over the age of 30. Lancaster has sent most of those old footsoldiers back to barracks, wheeling in the young guns to replace them on the front line.

Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson were already in international retirement. Andrew Sheridan and Richard Wigglesworth have long-term injuries.

But Johnno stalwarts Mike Tindall, Mark Cueto, Nick Easter, Shontayne Hape and Riki Flutey have all been cut, and Matt Banahan and Delon Armitage dropped into the second-string Saxons.

Leading the charge in their place is 20-year-old Owen Farrell, stand-out star of an impressive Saracens backline, but the fresh faces are everywhere: Farrell's team-mate Brad Barritt, Quins duo Mike Brown and Jordan Turner-Hall, and Northampton's Lee Dickson and Calum Clark.

In some ways this is the easy part for Lancaster and his coaches, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell. Those players have been lighting up the Premiership.

The desire among England supporters to see some given their chance is unarguable. By picking so many Lancaster is creating expectation and excitement where before there was cynicism and disillusionment.

The tougher questions will be asked by the hard yards and big hits of the Six Nations. Three of England's five matches are away from home, with Murrayfield on 4 February a fiery baptism for the new kids on the block.

Lancaster admits the other sides have a stability and consistency of selection that he does not.

Should England struggle in Scotland, or fail to deal with a Welsh assault at Twickenham a few weeks later, will Lancaster stick with such an inexperienced outfit as they head to Paris in early March?

For now at least he has breathing space. And he will attempt his transformation in an environment in which he feels completely at home - 20-odd miles north of Kettlethorpe High School, where he used to teach PE; even closer to the Leeds RFU Academy he ran for five years from 2001.

The last we saw of Johnson was in sunny Auckland. His team announcements in the UK were made in the bucolic splendour of Pennyhill Park, Bagshot.

West Park RFC in Bramhope, where Lancaster will base his squad before their Six Nations opener at Murrayfield, is a rather different place - grassroots where Pennyhill is high society, convivial rather than Chelsea tractors and retired colonels.

The clubhouse bar goes big on local ales. Grey clouds drop anchor overhead.
Lancaster, who sometimes helps coach the under-11s side here, arrives in tracksuit bottoms and polo shirt and gives an animated 45-minute presentation to the assembled media about the way he wants his England side to play.

The key on-field message is one of speed - of delivery at the breakdown, of alignment in the backs, of supporting line-breaks.

He shows video clips of his Saxons side in training and tries scored by the St Helens rugby league team.

There is barely a blazer in sight. The impression is unavoidable: I am a coach, and I get my boots dirty.

Johnson's England were never quite as remote and uninspired as the dismal World Cup campaign of last autumn seemed to suggest.

A year ago they comprehensively outplayed Wales in their Six Nations opener and appeared an outfit on the rise, while Warren Gatland's team - on a winless streak of eight matches - seemed to be spiralling in the opposite direction.

The two nations even won the same number of matches in New Zealand. But while England's four victories were turgid affairs, overshadowed by the entertainment some players found in nightclubs, hotel rooms and harbours, Wales combined youth with adventure to thrill both their fans and neutrals. Lancaster wants his England to do the same.

His time is limited. Unless miracles of the Grand Slam variety happen this spring, his is likely to be a two-month interregnum.

Stuart Lancaster

Stuart Lancaster has moved quickly to give several fresh faces a chance. Photo: Getty Images

The squad will be back at Pennyhill Park for the remainder of their Six Nations training sessions. By the time of the next World Cup Lancaster's brief sojourn may well be forgotten, relegated to a foreword as new chapters are written.

The man himself prefers to think of it as a launching pad for successes that might lie ahead. In four years' time the World Cup will be held in England.

By then, he hopes, the tender young buds he has planted this week will have flowered into world-beaters.

"We've got a fantastic opportunity here," he says. "We have to build a foundation through to [the summer tour to] South Africa, the autumn internationals and beyond.

"We want to play a game that excites people. We need to develop a new group of leaders - good characters, good people, talented players. This squad has potential for now, but also for the future. The players are excited and us coaches are excited."

When the news conference is finished, Lancaster wanders through to where the assembled scribes are hammering away at their laptops.

Over a packet of crisps he talks enthusiastically about his plans for the week ahead.
Johnson would never have done that in a million years. Change is in the Yorkshire air.


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  • Comment number 1.

    I really, truly hope that this approach works - however remember England footie in Rustenberg. The "boot camp" works for so long and then players just say "Nah! I'll head to France for a payday".

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks Tom - a very fair overview. I'm not going to get too excited about all the new faces, exactly because this is an interim set-up. I cannot see The Blazers rowing back on their decision to appoint an internationally established coach in the Summer, in which case the process starts all over again with a new coaching team.

    There is a real problem with a lack of experience in this squad, largely inevitable, but it makes the chances of retaining the championship a very long shot. Scotland will be itching for revenge, the Welsh want to prove their World Cup was no flash in the pan and the French need to consolidate their position as No 1 in the Northern hemisphere. I think England will do very well indeed to win more than three games.

    So best to see it for what it is - a six-month experiment that will give some of the new faces some much needed experience, and hopefully some useful pointers for an incoming coaching team. They are a long, long way from being 'world beaters' - let's not start playing that game again.

  • Comment number 3.

    It's a good start - til the next one this summer.

  • Comment number 4.

    Whoever takes over in the Summer will be very thankful to Lancaster for using these youngsters. I hope they and the coaches do very well and if the should do, I hope the coaching team stay. Just how much the R F U would save by sticking with the "interim" coaches I wouldn't know but I feel it would be better spent on development!!!

  • Comment number 5.

    I wonder how serious they are about appointing a new coach in the summer. Making a temporary appointment takes the pressure of the coaching staff, players, and most importantly the RFU themselves. If the 6N goes badly, there is likely to be less of a feeding frenzy than with a permanent coach.

  • Comment number 6.

    England fans hearts will sink at the name of Hodgson on the team sheet.He cannot be trusted to place kick so presumably Farrell will also start. The back row selections are baffling, there is 1 rookie no8 and no specialist 7 along with 5 blind sides.Dowson is obviously teachers pet. Hope I'm wrong but I can see tough times ahead vs Scotland and even Italy.

  • Comment number 7.

    Like the Blog Tom.

    This is a free hit for Lancaster and I think he has made all the right moves. I could nit pcik about one or two selections out of the 64 but I wont. The two squads are exciting and are full of potential. Also, as The head coach pointed out, it looks like a squad that can do things now.
    If Coach had done anything else, it would have been a missed opportunity. This is because I don't think England could have defended the Championship using the bulk of the World cup squad. So selecting this squad, blooding new players, giving more experience and responsability to the mid 20's brigade and changing the style of play is the best way forward.
    This squad may suprise us all and win 4 out of 5 games. Not impossible, but perhaps not likely. But with this sort of clear out, this sort of fresh start, with little pressure, the players can play in the 6 nations, perhaps for the only time in their careers, with absolutely no fear. This should empower the squad as a whole and players as individuals. There is some experience to help guide, with more to come back into the team.

    Whatever the future, 0-5 and Stuart Lancaster going back to development coaching, or a Grandslam and this coaching team being made permenant, well done Messers Lancaster, Farrell and Rowntree, you deserve any luck that comes your way. Respect.

  • Comment number 8.

    Well - it had to be done at sometime - thank you Stuart for having the courage. And I hope that Dr_ John_B has read it right - that would indicate that at least some of those at the RFU who are supposed to think are actually thinking.

  • Comment number 9.

    If i am honest, not the best blog, a bit wishy washy in the middle and skirts around the selections made.....but this is a very interesting time for English rugby.
    In one sense the pressure is off the England camp for once.
    What can we realistically say our goal/expectations are for this 6N? avoid the Wooden Spoon? Beat Italy and Scotland? Or just not get hammered?

    The boys should go out there and defend the title. Play the Red Rose proud. They may be inexperienced but that doesn't mean they can't win every game!
    Do England proud boys!

    COME ON ENGLAND!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 10.

    Just been on to to take a look at the new EPS announced today. Still got all the old squad up. Come on RFU! Let's see the changes reflected on the nation's official site!

  • Comment number 11.

    With Manu out for the first two games of the Six Nations, which one of the plodders selected in the squad at centre starts? A serious lack of foresight. The faces may have changed but the problem remains the same...a lack of pace at 13.

  • Comment number 12.

    lzrafel: I would guess Farrell would be started at 13........following Sarcens strategy and switching him to 10 when Hodgson goes off. Though I would like to see Trinder given a shout as he covers Tuilagi. Turner-Hall just doesnt fill me with excitement!

  • Comment number 13.

    Farrell is a fly-half & not a centre, at least not at international level, and he's definitely not a 13. I'm also not convinced of his place kicking but his kicking from hand is far better than Wilkinson's ever was.

  • Comment number 14.

    Fine squad but they'll get murdered in the tight. Not a scrummaging prop in sight. It's going to be a long and painful 6N.

  • Comment number 15.

    Wahey! Something to be optimistic about! After the disappointment of New Zealand. 

    I think it a shame that Doran-Jones was overlooked in favour of Wilson, and much as I like the look of Clarke as a 6, I feel a true 7, a la Saull, would have benefited the squad greatly...but that's it for my real gripes with the EPS. 

    Hodgson has been playing very well at Sarries, so to those who roll their eyes in despair, who's been a more consistant stand-off this year? He'd be my pick straight away with Flood out. Centres are all new, with young guys who can crash holes and play ball...and even if things do go wrong in the 6N; this is a young squad, clearly with a view to 4 years' time. We have time to build now, and this is the first step in that direction...

    Bring it on!

  • Comment number 16.

    Izrafel, dude, Farrell's kicking percentage from the tee this year is around 80%...higher than flood, Myler, lamb, Twelvetrees, Goode...he's having a great year with a boot. And his role at sarries as a 2nd outside half is working great outside hodgson and Barritt. I expect that to be out 10-12-13 axis against Scotland to be honest. It's working well at club, and would be a great way to even out both Barritt's and Farrell's lack of experience. Makes sense to me!

  • Comment number 17.

    He can play 12 and 13 at club level, but that is different to interantional so who knows if he can play there. Personally I would like him to focus on fly half, but he has been selected as a i think he will be used there.
    His kicking out of hand is so so good. Plus he also seems to understand WHEN to kick. Very rarely wastes possesion. His goal kicking is very good also in my opinion. Maybe not the standard of Wilko, but whose is? The fact that he keeps the premierships all time top poitn scorer from kicking penalties and conversions at the moment says something!

  • Comment number 18.

    Nice to see the fresh faces but i do worry about the lack of forward experience, it takes a few seasons at the coal face to mold a good forward into a test forward, and old heads to guide them. But we look forward to the six nations with excitement and hope!!!

  • Comment number 19.

    As a Pom resident in NZ I applaud the change to the squad. Speed at the breakdown was the prime ingredient at the RWC which was why Wales were so good. England on the other hand were slow and oh so boring - the Argentina match must go down as the most boring game I have ever seen. England have got the talent as they have showed on the odd occasion over the last two years - now let us hope they will get the chance to show it. I was so embarassed to be a Brit at the RWC. NZ won because they had speed at the breakdown, plus a lot more technique and then had the sheer talent outside to be able to exploit it, even if they were a tad lucky to beat France in the RWC Final with a substandard display.
    John in the Waikato

  • Comment number 20.

    It's not his kicking percentage that worries me, it's the kicks he misses. He missed a bucket-load at Wembley against the Ospreys and two sitters at the weekend which suggests some psychological flaws to me; but he is only young.

    And if the RWC taught us just one lesson it was that the attritional style of the Premiership doesn't cut it at international level. To win you have to have penetration & make line breaks.

  • Comment number 21.

    Initial reaction? Fairly confident.

    Some good new young faces, a clear out of the old ones and a much fresher look to what became a very stagnant coaching set-up, maybe a couple of quips about the selections. I would have liked to have seen Joe Gray in the EPS, has been very good for Quins and adds a lot of mobility, the 3 selected are much the same (saving maybe Mears, although he's from a more archaic mold of hooker). As Tom alluded to i'm not so sure Marler has the skill set in the set piece for international level yet, although if you wanted to progress your propping skills you couldn't look much further than Rowntree, a man who spent most of his 15 odd years at Leicester making top class props look average. Personally I think Louis Deacon has earned 29 more England caps that he should have, short of international standard in my opinion, would have liked to have seen Parling in from the start, looked impressive in his return from injury last week against Wasps. Can't really fault the backs selections, the AP has a lot of good talent and it's good to see some of the youngsters rewarded.

    Not in agreeance with some of the criticism for Hodgson, he can still get a back line going as can be seen at Saracens and would be a perfect partner for a young Farrell with the club combination being a much more comfortable environment for him to make his debut if that's what Lancaster's thinking. As for Dowson? He's been monumental for Northampton for the past couple of seasons and his selection is far overdue.

    England aren't going to win this Six Nations, only in my wildest dreams, but what I like is that there are so many new faces, players (and coaches) who want to prove themselves as future England regulars. Can only but hope that this engenders some more energy, a bit more zeal into the teams play. As I said I don't think England will win, but they can set foundations for the years to come and I just hope that if things don't go as well as planned they don't just get dumped, as has been the fickle nature in selection since 2003. Also I hope, no matter how the 6N's pans out, that the Lancaster/Farrell/Rowntree axis get to remain in the EPS in some capacity. Everything i've seen of them has shown me nothing but honesty and a willingness to drag England out of the self-inflicted mire it has put itself in.

  • Comment number 22.

    Yes Hodgson has deserved a place in the squad based solely on form, however i'd still prefer Farrell to be given the start at 10, if this really is building for the World cup, then it makes sense.

    Surprised at Clarke's inclusion as the squad looks light of 7's.

    i also don't understand the discussion of Wood or Robshaw for captain, neither is exactly experienced at international level. Wood isn't even captain for Saints, the inclusion of both Hartley and Dowson (Saints captain and stand in captain) makes suggesting him for captain even more bizzare.
    Personally i would chose Hartley as captain, considering he's definately going to start as Hooker, he's been Saints captain for a few years now, and has more international experience than most in the squad.

  • Comment number 23.

    @20: "It's not his kicking percentage that worries me, it's the kicks he misses. He missed a bucket-load at Wembley against the Ospreys and two sitters at the weekend which suggests some psychological flaws to me;"

    So he must be kicking over LOADS to be keeping up his percentage! For a young man he has a very cool head. And has shown he can put his mistake out of his mind when stepping up to take important kicks. Everyone will have an off day with the boot. i think Farrell will get better and better.
    But if he is having an off day, we can resort back to Hodgson who isnt a shoddy kicker himelf!

  • Comment number 24.

    #14 Corbisiero and Cole are not scrummaging props? Really? You sure on that?

  • Comment number 25.

    Can you honestly see any of this lot seriously troubling Wales or Ireland?

    Having seen (and supported) England "rebuilding" for the last 4 years I hope the new faces can have the same impact as the youngsters Wales introduced last year.
    I've seen too many false dawns to get my hopes up!

  • Comment number 26.

    I can recall watching Hodgson destroying Tigers in a premiership final and wondering "who is this guy and why have I not seen him do that in an England shirt" and I'm still wondering.......

  • Comment number 27.

    @24: Not many people ACTUALLY know what makes a good scrummager. Corbisiero showed against Scotland in the WC that he is up to the task!

    @25: The thing that England have on their side is the elliment of surprise. No one knows what they are going to come out and do! We have the finishers in the backs. We have the kickers in the backs. We have the brute force in the backs. If the forward can front up and work in the correct units.....then why not?

  • Comment number 28.

    @26: Last season he destroyed Sarcens when he was at Sale. I think the pressure has just got to him for the big games. But now he is a little older, and doesnt have much pressure as he is not considered the first choice 10 or even the future 10 just a stand in, he could impress!

  • Comment number 29.

    Dont care if England lose all 5 and win the wooden spoon as long as they try to play some entertaining rugby. This is a young side tell them to give it a go we wont drop you for trying something different. I would rather watch England go down 35 -36 than that turgid rubbish we dished up in NZ. I want to be entertained, I want to look forward to watching, I want to have fun and I want to walk away from the match and say did you see that move wasnt it awesome.

  • Comment number 30.

    "Sunny Auckland"? It started raining in September and hasn't stopped since. We've had one day of sunshine this year. And it's summer. Or were you being ironic?

  • Comment number 31.

    Looks a lot better thats for however I'm worried we still lack a genuine no.7. Truly cannot believe Seymour is not in the EPS let alone the Saxons. Wood could miss the Scotland game with a foot injury so we could have done with Seymour. Now Robshaw or Croft will have to play 7 which isn't ideal.

    Not sure about Deacon (injured and rubbish), Marler (concerned about his scrummaging), Botha (would rather a young Englishman not almost 30 saffa) or David Wilson (just not that good). Instead of these I would have taken Parling, Wood, Robson and Doran-Jones.

  • Comment number 32.

    Selecting the right players was always going to be hard, I am happy with his chosen backs but a bit baffled by some selections in the forwards. Lancaster has basically picked a side of elite players who were certainties, such as Hartley, Lawes, Croft, Flood, Youngs, Foden etc... then the rest of his squad he has worked with under the England Saxons. Yes he has chosen some fresh players such as Farrell, Brown and Turner-Hall but he has worked with them already under the England Saxons.

    To me this squad is hardly fresh, and packed with proper up and coming talent, I feel it's just a side full of elite players and players who Lancaster has worked with already.

    God knows why the likes of Mears, Webber, Wilson and Deacon have been picked for. Lee Mears is 32 that is hardly turning to the future in the hooker position, and yes Webber hasn't been capped before, but his line out skills aren't the best around, we seen that against Leicester Tigers only a couple of weeks ago. People were mentioning Jamie George and Joe Gray both of which haven't been included, George not even in the Saxons set up. While Wilson is just a waste of a pick, and despite the qualities of Louis Deacon he is currently injured and could well be out for the whole of the six nations. George Robson deserved a call up and in all honesty I am pretty shocked to see him not included in the 32. While Doran-Jones or young Henry Thomas are far better options than the overrated rag of David Wilson(he is hardly special). Also lastly despite Phil Dowson being an incredible Premiership player over the past couple of years, he is 30 years old and just proof that Lancaster has picked him just because he has worked with him for Saxons. Thomas Waldrom has been the Premiership's form 8 for the last two season's, an incredible ball carrier yet he also gets chucked into the Saxons squad.

    I am happy with the backs, but baffled with the forwards, I thought there would be far more uncapped players included in the squad the way pundits were talking about it, but the uncapped players he has picked were almost certainties in the first place i.e Farrell, Morgan and Marler there are hardly any surprising and exciting inclusions in my view.

  • Comment number 33.

    @32: Ospreywarrior: What were you expecting? 20 uncapped players? Loads of people who have never been tested at any sort of international level?

    Quite often people go through the England ranks, U20, Saxons, Elite its hardly surprising to see these guys in there. Players that havent done this probably arent good enough. Plus Lancaster knows these players, he has worked with them, as I think you pointed out 6 times but you obviously think it is worth reiterating one more time! That was half the point of selecting him as he needs less time getting to know the England squad than some coaches would.

    Lancaster is also limited to the amount of changes he can make to the Elite Squad. So he couldnt have changed it completely even if he wanted to.

    Don't believe everything you hear in the papers about the England Rugby team.

    Also it is worth pointing out Farrell has never played Saxons, until now he has been in the U20s team.

    Finally the selection isn't overly surprising because like Lancaster, we the fans and the media can see who is playing well and deserves a call up. Baffled by your post, really not sure what kind of an anoucement you were expecting!

  • Comment number 34.

    #32, some interesting points, although it is odd that you say that Dowson shouldn't be included because he is 30, but call for Waldrom, who turns 29 in a few months.
    As the point of the Saxons is to provide players for the England squad, it is hardly surprising that a nuber of the new guys have come via that route. Since the Saxons have been playing some decent stuff for a number of years, it is a positive that those players are being given a chance to move up.

    Given his age, the selection of Mears is not ideal, although if England are trying to build a dynamic game, it may still turn out to be a good short term selection

    The only place I have a real objection is the 2nd row - hopefully Lawes and Palmer will start. The fact that having stumbled on a top quality combination, MJ chose to break them up for the world cup is one of the big mysteries of his time in charge (along with Matt Stevens at LH).
    Even if fit, Deacon shouldn't be in the squad as there are younger, more deserving players around - presumably there will be a replacement in the squad (were there rules about how many changes SL can make to the squad?). I would have picked two from Attwood, Parling or Robson over Botha and Deacon.

    Backs look decent, although with Tuilangi injured, who is going to play 13, and who will cover the outside backs from the bench?

  • Comment number 35.

    So what do we make of the likely back row combination to start against the Scots then? I would suggest that on form Robshaw is a shoo-in, and the two stand out flankers on experience are Wood and Croft. However, what of Morgan: would Murrayfield be the place to blood him?

    I think Clark will miss out, Dowson maybe involved, but the first choice unit will come from the four mentioned above.

    Robshaw at eight, with Croft and Wood playing a left / right system, as opposed to the "traditional" open / blind? Or Morgan at eight, Robshaw at six, and one of Wood / Croft with the other to come on for impact? In that case I'd start with Wood and have Croft on the bench fo pace.

    That muddies the line-out waters though, as Croft is a go-to jumper.

    Or will Robshaw warm the bench as the best cover across the whole back row?

    Lots of permutations, and in the maelstrom and mayhem of Murrayfield, with Barclay Brown and A.N. Other to contend with, who will come off best?

    Me? I'd go with Croft, Robshawe and Wood.

  • Comment number 36.

    No specialist 7, Wallace should have at least have made the Saxon squad, very worried he'll find a Scottish grandad and England will have missed the next McCaw

  • Comment number 37.


    I would also go with Robshaw at 8 with Croft/Wood alternating

    You need to have Croft in the lineout and I do think that Murrayfield is not the place to start a brand new number 8. Nor is it the place to start Farrell at fly-half - he will get hammered

    I reckon it will be a Hodgson/Barritt/Farrell lineup in the centres, I hope he goes with Corbisiero/Hartley/Cole in the front 3, I really rate Corbs as a loosehead - anyone that can stand toe-to-toe with Castro in a test match and not get bested is OK with me!

    Scrum half is the other key place that needs sorting before that game...

  • Comment number 38.

    Tom - nice to see a promotion where its due. I hope you will be commissioning yourself and Dirs for many a blog during the 6N.

    Have to pick you up on a few things though...

    Wigglesworth is only 28 so a bit unfair to lunk him in with the past it warhorses.

    Farrell as the "stand-out star of an impressive Saracens backline". Sarries back line has been OK. Strettle has been the top scorer and other players than Farrell provide the guile and flair. The kid looks a solid 12 but is getting too much hype!

    PS Can we not mention the England world cup off field stuff again?

  • Comment number 39.


    Not a scrummaging prop?? Whilst Corbisiero and Cole may not be the best in the NH they are good enough to hold their own and they can only improve under Rowntree - he is one of the best scrummaging coaches in the world

    I don't think Marler is good enough in the tight yet but he can learn and I hope he does. I don't really agree on Wilson being included - he's no use in the loose and I haven't seen him really impress in the tight either!

  • Comment number 40.

    Great start and good to see the new kids in there. That said, the dropping of Nick Easter, doubtless the form number 8 in the Premiership this season, seems to me to be purely a political move.

    With the type of game that Lancaster claims to want to play, Easter would be the perfect number 8, as well as giving at least a little bit of experience to what will be a young team.

    All of the above being said, any coach who drops Tindall gets my vote. How anyone in the game of rugby could think that he has EVER been up to international rugby is beyond me.

  • Comment number 41.

    #39, #14

    I agree Corbs and Cole have proven themselves at the top table. I also agree that with Rowntree giving hands on coaching they can only get better.

    The same also goes for Marler, who brings something else to the table: added physicality and agression around the park (he seems to have reigned in the disciplinary issues around that side of his game), and a real devil to the front row (in a Brian Moore, Richard Cockerill, Julian White kind of way). His tight game can only improve in the England camp, so it's the best place to have him.

    I think Corbs / Hartley / cole picks itself to start, though.

    Scrum-half is an interesting one, #37. I would say Youngs has it nailed on to start, but the bench options given the lack of Care means that it'll be one of Simpson or Dickson.

    If Youngs gets injured in the first minute, who would you want coming on?

  • Comment number 42.

    Foden looks to better the better 9 cover.

  • Comment number 43.

    Nice read.

    I think this year will be an exciting one for England. All the old heads that should never have been there and were only picked because Johnson was too scared to take risks are now gone and replaced with young talented players.

    I think England will no doubt struggle in this 6N...we've all seen it before where great club rugby players get thrown into international level and they then realise the weakness in the opposing team are a lot less then their usual club games and they struggle to keep up. I think this will happen. But regardless how England do, if they can play good entertainling running rugby for a change and show signs of brilliance then thats all they need. The team will grow over the coming years.

  • Comment number 44.


    "But regardless how England do, if they can play good entertainling running rugby for a change and show signs of brilliance then thats all they need. The team will grow over the coming years"

    I give you the performance versus Australia, November 2010


  • Comment number 45.

    I think that the Leeds base is a good idea as a starting point to drag the squad back down to earth.

    I think we could all argue at one or two picks but that's to be expected.

    The key to the 6N campaign will be momentum. The Scotland game will be tough and unpleasant - if they get through that well and then match Italy up front then this group of young players - picked when on form - could surprise us all. Equally a scrapped win or a loss in the first two games could signal a tough time.

    The one plus point is that the coach knows that he might as well have the courage of his convictions with the limited shelf-life he's got.

  • Comment number 46.

    #41 - Simpson for me

    Let's see how we cope at Murrayfield, it's going to be a very difficult game as Scotland are resurgent and are at home - they also host a very inexperienced England and they will do all they can to throw us off the game

  • Comment number 47.

    This is an exciting squad - and it's encouraging that all links with the 2003 squad have now been broken. Finally we seem to be moving on.

    A note of caution though. I do remember talk of a new era when Brian Ashton took over. He brought players like Flood, Geraghty and Cipriani into the team. Pressure for immediate results from the media/ RFU management board eventually did for him though.

    I hope everyone shows a bit more patience this time.

  • Comment number 48.

    #44 rinsure

    Your naming 1 game that happened 2 years ago as your retort? :)

  • Comment number 49.


    I was just pointing out that a young team produced a display of some brilliant running rugby, and then went on to step-by-step stagnate over the next 18 months, rather than grow.

    Fingers crossed for a different history this time!

  • Comment number 50.

    Interesting and exciting squad, I think everyone can probably pick fault somewhere but on the whole nice to see a fresh approach. I hope it pays off and Lancaster gets a fair crack at the role, if he gets the players playing for him and results flowing it may be difficult for the RFU to do anything else but give him the role on a permanent basis.

    A couple of interesting dilemmas for me are

    a) Captaincy.

    For me this should be Wood, should be a nailed on starter when fit and young enough (25) to grow with the team. I would not give it Hartley (discipline) or Robshaw (needs to establish himself in the team and as an international) and do not really see anyone else with their hand in the air at this point. I do admit, however, that it relies on Wood regaining and maintaining fitness.

    b) Scrum Half.

    I am a big Youngs fan however, and comments welcome, his decision making appears to have slowed. When he first burst on the scene his decision making was quick and instinctive. Recently this appears to have become more indecisive (burdened by coaching style?) as if he is thinking too much before delivery, this has led to 1 or 2 too many steps from the base of the scrum or breakdown slowing the attacking impetus. The fresh coaching and competition from Dickson may give him the freedom to play his instinctive game. i would start with Youngs and have Dickson on the bench.


  • Comment number 51.

    @20 Ifrazel Farrell can make the tough pressure kicks, if you can watch the premiership final at Twickenham last season, see his touchline scores when the game was close, unbelievable kick almost Wilko-esque

  • Comment number 52.

    As an outsider looking in on the England squad I might be a little uninformed on a few points but feel that it holds a few weaknesses.

    Balance in the backrow seems a little off no identifable 7 and only one specialist 8 who is very young and completely inexperienced at international level. Considering that there have been mentions of England's slowness to the breakdown the possiblity you might go with 3 players that play at 6 regularly is a little confusing.

    Injuries means your short of depth at 9 and 10. Youngs has been inconsistent when I've seen him and again not sure the others list offer a viable alternative. Given the above mentioned matter of No. 8 you could be looking at a 8-9-10 axis that is completely alien to all involved. Different if you were at home, but at Murrayfield and the atmosphere it can give at a calcutta cup game is a big ask. Add to that a brand new midfield partnership and the issue could be amplified. I'd expect the Sarries back line to be used just to ease the players a bit and give then some familiarity. That does mean Hodgson at 10 so expect some big runner hitting his channel in the form of Hamilton, Grey, Lamont, etc!

  • Comment number 53.

    I think everyone will be happy with the 23 he can pull out of this squad, there are still a few names in that eps squad that you wonder "why?" but in terms of a reduced match day squad I don't think many would still be complaining

    The backs for the first game, apart from the wings, seem a dead cert. in the pack, things arent so clear. As a forward myself I don't think there is anything better than a muddy pitch in leeds to throw yourself at one another in training. I have faith in Rowntree to deliver a competitive pack from that bunch in all areas. I believe wood and robshaw have enough experience on either flank to play a L/R system as someone stated above.

    Now here is my inevitable groan. As a sarries fan, I have watched farrell both live and on tv now over the last 2 seasons. He is a reliable goal kicker and his passing is quality. But do I believe he is the future england 10? Not yet and probably not ever. Anyone who watched the u20 world cup saw the confidence and technical ability of the young Ford at Leicester. He played 10 in that team despite being 2 years younger than Farrell and took the goal kicks. I think many foreign pundits will question why we have fast-tracked Farrell over this young man because despite being the youngest player at that tournament, Ford looked the most assured by a long way, even over the baby blacks etc from the southern hemisphere. And even if Farrell was to play a playmaking/kicking centre in this 6nations, would you really pick him over twelvetrees?

    I hope he has a role to play in a future England team but I sense a baptism of fire on the cards whatever position he may find himself in. I hope daddy isn't expecting too much of him...

  • Comment number 54.

    "The key on-field message is one of speed - of delivery at the breakdown, of alignment in the backs, of supporting line-breaks."


  • Comment number 55.

    The point has been made by others that quite a number of the selections seem to be influenced by Lancaster's coaching experience with the Saxons..

    Of course the Saxons are intended to be something like a conveyor belt... But since the advent of the days of the selector/coach there has been a tendency for selections to be biased towards "training ground loyalty"- based upon players responding to coaching and the potential that the coaches say they see (and have invested in) rather than in actual on-field performance.

    But given the retirements and current injuries in a 6N in which the other sides look more settled, at least England can produce a pack with international experience- apart from the crucial position of 8.

  • Comment number 56.

    We have to be honest about where we are as a squad. One or two may argue about who is included and who is not but, in reality, this squad represents just about the best we have at the moment.

    I for one am delighted that the old boys network that has existed since the final whistle in Sydney `03 has finally been broken up and we can start afresh. However that may come at a price and I am more hopeful than optimistic about the forthcoming campaign.

    There is lots of positive talk, but have we not heard that a lot through the Robinson/Ashton/Johnson tenures? Lets hope this coaching team show some "green shoots" of recovery as I am very worried that there is an obsession with getting Mallet into the job which is not based on merit. ( The English rugby world would benefit IMO by ignoring everything the bitter Stuart Barnes has to say!)

    At the end of the 6N lets hope that we have identified some new internationals, have a clear game plan, a scrum half who doesn`t take 30 seconds to produce the ball, and no arrogant press conferences defending OTT behaviour off the field!


    Can some of the previous commentators about "scrummaging" props point out to me the last game where Corbisiero and Cole took a backward step at international level?

  • Comment number 57.


    Yes but that team wasn't that young or inexperienced as this squad. I think this squad is the best and most refreshing thing that has happened to English rugby.
    Far too long have the same overrated past their best players been selected but now there is a wind of change. I think England will be back to their best once this team gets some experience behind it.

    Big dillemma mentioned above...who would you have as captain?
    I dont think there is any obvious captain and I dont think England have a captain that every player out there respects but that person will come in time. Someone needs to step up and become world class and take the captaincy.

  • Comment number 58.

    I think Botha is in to add ballast to 2nd row and aggression. He was involved before the RWC and Attwood wasn't, so I'm guessing this was a Rowntree pick and he must be impressed. Deacon is a mystery.
    The number 7 thing is less of an issue for me. Wood has been playing there for most of the season, is quick and strong. He might not be small like Neil Back but then neither is Dousatoir, Macaw, Warburton or Wallace and O'brien from Ireland. Saull hasn't played much this season, neither has Wallace. Seymour is injured and I think despite his Skill set and tenacity, isn't International standard. Reminds me of Andy Hazell from Gloucester 5 to 7 years ago.
    In midfield, if they play Hodgson-Barrit-Farrell, because Tuigali is injured, this is not a disaster. There is balance to the midfield. Hodgson's passing ability, game management and experience, Barritts strength with ball in hand and in defence and Farrells kicking game, distribution skills and strength in defence. They regularly mix it up for Saracens, Farrell coming inside on or 2 positions to kick or put players into space. Barritts passing is a whole lot better than I thought and has a turn of pace. Without trying to stretch a point too far, the make up of the midfield is not too disimilar to that of the All Blacks Carter-Nonu-Smith (lol!). I expect Tuigali to come back and Farrell to move to 12. Trinder is also training with the 1st team squad so is an option.

  • Comment number 59.

    I love all the Jonny Wilkinson nostalgia......should put a bit of pressure on young Farrell! However I reckon Farrell wouldn't have missed so many kicks as JW did at the RWC. The team shake up is a breath of fresh air and hopefully England can move away from their insistent 10 man rugby tactics which has them labelled as the world's worse viewing spectacle for the last 20 years.

  • Comment number 60.

    A few quibbles, obviously, but the tone Lancaster is setting is spot on. Just a couple of things . . .

    . . . hope to god we don't see the Sarries midfield - Hodgson, Barritt, Farrell. Farrell is probably a 12, possibly a 10 in the long run. The one thing he isn't is an outside centre. Play Trinder until Tuilagi is fit. Farrell at 12 or on the bench.

    . . . backrow is all sixes except Morgan. Lancaster is going to have to take a punt on one of Robshaw or Wood at 7 (or play a left-right pattern like Haskell-Wood in the last 6N). Picking one of them as captain would be something of a hostage to fortune given the 6 is our most competitive position and Croft appears unnassailable.

    . . . on the basis that they are nailed on starters would Croft or maybe Hartley make better choices as captain. The captaincy becomes less of an issue anyway if you have a pool of leaders like Robshaw in the squad.

  • Comment number 61.


    I think when Tuilagi is fit Barritt may keep his place at 12 if he shows enough during the 6N, he is a better inside centre than Farrell and I can see Farrell sitting on the bench to cover fly half for Flood - for all the hype about him he needs to prove himself at international level (as does Barritt)

    I certainly think we should go with the Sarries setup for the Scotland game - the team is so new to each other we need some regularity in the midfield, I can see Ashton and Foden keeping their places so we should be OK at the back. Pack should be good enough for Scotland but we shall see - they are completely different animals at Murrayfield; add the Calcutta Cup into the equation and it should be a cracker!

    A few folk mentioning captaincy - my vote is for Wood or Robshaw. As a few have pointed out Robshaw is unproven at test level but I really think he can step up to the plate here, you only need to watch him in the AP and you can see how dedicated and passionate he is - give him a crack I say!

  • Comment number 62.

    #60 Ben

    I would put Robshaw at 8 for the Scotland game, I wouldn't like to see a brand new player starting at 8 at Murrayfield for the Cup - Robshaw has covered the position and knows what he's doing, then leave Croft at blindside and Wood at openside

    Depending how the game goes then maybe give young Ben the last quarter at 8?

  • Comment number 63.

    Re Wood I seem to recall that he was an open-side before he moved to Northampton, and was playing 7 there when asked to play six for England.. But it is a big ask to put the captaincy on to any player who is neither yet established in the international side nor regularly captaining a successful side at club level.

    Everyone seems to be rather overlooking Dowson who I seem to remember captained England Saxons for Lancaster. Did he not captain Newcastle before moving to Northampton?

  • Comment number 64.

    @ 62. I agree. Really, I think Narraway should have got the nod over Dowson. Specialist No.8, capped and plays the way England intend to.

  • Comment number 65.

    I first saw Owen Farrell play when he was 14 and it was obvious even then that he was a prodigious talent and destined to be a star. George Ford at Leicester falls into the same category. Both these guys are the real deal and are likely to be fixtures in the future England side for many years to come, but both are No 10's first and foremost. Farrell, I believe, is the more versatile of the two position-wise and currently plays centre for Sarries so I would predict a Ford/Farrell 10/12 combo in 2015. Given that the squad is the first step towards 2015 I am surprised that Ford is not in the Saxons but hope this is because they do not want to rush him. Farrell on the other hand has more Premiership experience so the time is right for him. He will be a revelation and a breath of fresh air for this new look England wherever he plays, but even more so if it had been at 10 which is his natural position.

  • Comment number 66.

    I am loving all the new faces, most deserve their place. Hodgson might produce now he is out from under Wilkinson's shadow - he has been the best attacking fly half in the premiership fo rthe last 10 years.

    Only question mark for me is the lack of an out and out 7 - they make such a difference in the game and to half a back row of what are essentially three 6's may effect us in defence and turnovers. All three are good runners with the ball though so maybe it will help us get over the gainline.

    Saracen's 10/12/13 combo may well be what he goes with, would be really interesting to watch them train up in Leeds as Bramhope is only 20 minutes away - will spectators be allowed Tom? If so do you know when the training starts.

  • Comment number 67.

    #64 Hebe

    I've always wondered just why Narraway never got a run? He's a good player and deserves a shout - there must be something going on there.......

    #66 I don't agree completely that we need an out and out 7, Croft and Wood are both capable (and do) win the ball at breakdowns and Croft is excellent in the lineout. I really want to see Saull given a few games to maybe prove the point that a specialist 7 is the way forward - but he has to displace one of two established players in good form which is no easy feat; but I do like the way he plays, he is very aggressive

    As someone above pointed out - Botha has been included for this reason, he is a very physical and aggressive player, mush more so than Deacon/Lawes/Palmer (although I like Palmers' style) and you need someone like that in the squad

  • Comment number 68.

    Agree with those who think Narraway and Twelvetrees should have made the EPS. Turner Hall and Barritt are very similar and we could probably cope with just one of these.

    Nazza deserves a crack after long service in age group and saxons rugby and hinting at real potential in his caps prior to injury. I can't believe Morgan looks that much better that he should skip the Saxons and walk into a starting spot.

  • Comment number 69.

    Captain question - needs to be a nailed on starter. We can't have a Borthwick / moody scenario where they're the "captain" but there's widespread debate about their merit.

    On that basis, we would need to resolve the back row issues around Robshaw, Wood, Croft and Morgan (plus a returning Haskell come next season) for any of them to become "first name on the team-sheet".

    I'm struggling to see past Dylan Hartley. Does it for Saints, leads from the front, and has a much better disciplinary record this season. Unquestionably the first choice hooker, and the "right age"; he'll be 29 come 2015 (I think) and at the height of his powers (one hopes).

    I'm sure people will disagree, but that;s what the blog's for, eh?!

  • Comment number 70.

    I don't think there are too many surprises in the squad, perhaps Calum Clark. I would rather of seen another centre chosen rather than him. Robshaw can play anywhere across the back row so having only 5 would have been enough cover in my opinion where as with Tuilagi out for at least the first match you're going into it with only 3 choices really with 0 caps between them. Chucking in another option there would have at least given more to play around with.

    I'm also not sure what bringing Dowson in at this stage offers. He is without doubt a good player in the premiership but at 30 and with 0 caps he has no full international experience and certainly isn't one for the future. If you want to build for the future you're better off going with a younger man, if you want to give a young team a bit of experience and an older wiser head you'd probably be better off sticking with Easter.

  • Comment number 71.

    I think generally he has got the selection right. I think he would have made more changes in the forwards if his hands had not been tied by the EPL rules of only 10 changes to the previous squad (although he could do more due to retirement/injury). Basically I think he has made the maximum number of changes he could and there are some fortunate beneficiaries of that rule like Mears and Wilson.

    Let's face it, the major overhaul needed was in the backs anyway and this is reflected.

    I appreciate people's reservation on Lancaster only being being interim but my view is if he does a good job he will likely play a prominent role under whoever takes over at the helm.

  • Comment number 72.

    Good article.

    Personally this is the England squad I have been waiting to see announced since 2003 - a squad, that with maybe one or two exceptions for position specific needs, that is picked ON ACTUAL CURRENT FORM!

    I am not going to bitch about the likes of Tindall, Banahan etc, even though I am quietly very glad that they have slipped into the night, but the potential backline excites me. For the six nations and in the cause of a little bit of experience I would go with Hodgson at 10, with Turner Hall at 12 and Faz at 13 - it works well enough for Saracens (Barritt and not JTH obviously, but similar players). Longer term, after he gets a tad more experience, you move Farell to 10 and look at some of the more exciting outside centres around at the minute - Hopper at Quins, or JJ at Irish. it will be nice to see a midfield with a bit of craft going forward!

    Some people have mentioned about Robshaw/Wood not being experienced enough to be made captain - I would briefly like to refer back to a certain Mr Carling...!

  • Comment number 73.

    #70 - good shout on the Easter/Dowson thing - it is a bit of a weird one. 34 at the next world cup, and with the likes of Wood/Robshaw/Croft/Morgan he isnt going to be first choice in the slightest

  • Comment number 74.

    @69 rinsure is Dylan Hartley definitely nailed on for hooker though? Granted I'd say he'd be my personal choice but you can make a case for both Mears and Webber. Given that's your argument for not choosing Wood or Robshaw (to my mind the two leading candidates) is that they're not gauranteed a starting spot I'd say the same goes for Hartley.

    It's a tough decision to make as the few people who I would say are absolute nailed to rights certainties to start the games against Scotland (probably only about 4-5 players) wouldn't make the best captains in my opinion. There may be stand out candidates in other positions on the pitch but I wouldn't like to put money on who Lancaster would pick.

  • Comment number 75.

    Lot of talk about age and experience here especially young Farrell. If you have a chance you should check out what the elder Farrell achieved at a young age in RL. Captain of Great Britain at the age of 21 and playing regularly for Wigan when just over 16. The only player to score over 3000 points for Wigan and the chief goalkicker for Wigan scoring over 400 points in one season.

    Of course Owen is not Andy but there has to be chance that some of the father's ability to perform, both as a technical kicker and as a captain and leader has passed through to the son. I guess we will soon find out.

    As for the rest of the squad, all I can say is let's see what happens, they really cannot lose even if they finish bottom, I mean if the goal is 2015 this year is surely one of identifying potential in the international game environment?

  • Comment number 76.

    @53 - interesting points re: Farrell, particularly from a Sarries fan. Far too much hype around his inclusion, but inevitable I suppose. Good luck to him, though.

    Would be nice to see a genuine 13 picked - Trinder - but, like many, I'm just hoping for an overall more inspiring brand of rugby from England.

  • Comment number 77.

    Mightchewster - I do agree that Wood and Croft are both good players and more than capable of winning the ball. I think what a good 7 gives you is the extra dynamism that steals that extra two balls a game or speed on to the tackled man to get them pinged for holding on. Although Wood, Croft and Robshaw all good in defense they just lack that extra burst of speed and thought that a really good 7 provides you with. Saull is yet to fully convince me he is ready but he will grow into a really, really good player and may have been worth at least a chance given the experimental part of the squad.

    I disagree with onlyjoequin though. Easter is past it and in the game last weekend was deservedly binned for continually slowing the ball & collapsing the maul. He looked out of his depth in the world cup and how he got picked ahead of Haskell I'll never know. He used to provide really good go forward and good hands but these last few years with his back injuries he has slowed down immensely.

    I'm with Lancaster, sticking experience in for experience sake is pointless. Go with players who are playing with confidence and belief, reaffirm that in them when training and preparing and most won't let you down.

  • Comment number 78.

    Oh, and the reason he has picked people who are almost certainly out for the tournament like Deacon is because they were in the original squad so he effctively gets a free pick through the injury cover route.

  • Comment number 79.

    The pick of Hodgson suggests that Lancaster doesn't want to throw Farrell in the deep end which is sensible as there will be at least 3 new faces in the back line for the 6N opener (not including Hodgson as a new face) so a bit of experience is warranted. Hodgson has proved time and again that he doesn't have what it takes at England level despite the incredible skillset but maybe being at Saracens will have improved his mindset. I also think think that barring any form issues at training that it looks like the Saracens trio of Hodgson, Barritt and Farrell will start which given 2 are new and 1 is flaky should help them all to adjust with familiarity.

    That said I think Hodgson is the obvious stop gap and will be just that but the cupboard is a bit bare at 10.

    An interesting question is will he throw Farrell in at the deep end with first choice kicking duties?

  • Comment number 80.

    I dont really see this as a chance to bring in new "young" players. Most of the new caps are around the mid-twenties (apart from farrell and one or two others)

    Main thing is that there is fresh blood, irrespective of age

    Will be interesting to see how these players step up to international class, and being compared to the best in the world. Its alright winning some lineouts against exeter and looking the part, completely different kettle of fish when Paul O'Connel is breathing down your neck in a game you have to win.

    Exciting times though!!

  • Comment number 81.


    Cupboard a bit bare at 10?


    Is Shane Geraghty still around too?

    Plus there's a certain chap playing in Australia too.

    I wouldn't say there's a bare cupboard!

  • Comment number 82.

    usedtobefast I'm not necessarily saying Lancaster should go with Easter more just questioning the choice of Dowson. The guy is undoubtably a good player but he's completely untested as a full international so he's a bit of a risk. OK you have to do this to blood new players but at 30 he probably got only a couple of season of international rugby ahead of him so he's hardly a choice for the future. So IF you want to go for a choice for the future you'd be better off with Morgan, IF you want an older more experienced player then you're better off with Easter and IF you want a balance between the two you're probably better off with Narraway. You've also got Waldrom who is younger than Dowson and in decent form.

  • Comment number 83.

    rinsure I think you're being overoptimistic on the 10 front

    Flood - Injured
    Hodgson - Good stop gap measure at best
    Farrell - Too young and not even first choice for his club
    Lamb - Is he really top international class?
    Ford - Way too early to say for this guy
    Clegg - Terrible points kicking and still has some way to develop

    Is Shane Geraghty still around too? - If he ever get's back any where near an England squad then the devil will be ice skating to work

    Plus there's a certain chap playing in Australia too. - who is currently third choice for his club

    There are far too many ifs, buts and mabes there. Some good prospects but at this time that's all they are.

  • Comment number 84.

    We lost one game at the world cup coming off of winning the six nations. We lost said game to the team who would have won the final had the ref not thrown his whistle away in the last 15 mins.

    All this world cup bashing from the press is truly sickening. Martin Johnson an English hero should be leading England still.

  • Comment number 85.

    Fair do's old Joe, agree that Dowson isn't exactly one for the future - but having said that England's back row in 2003 weren't exactly spring chickens.

    Being a bit harsh on Lamb, his game management for Irish has been superb and I thought might be in with a shout.

    Flood winds me up though, I wish he'd learn that we don't have to score off every phase and build the pressure up by keeping the ball. Too many times he throws a pop to absolutely no one giving the ball away.

    Maybe you are right, ten seems to be a bit of a problem position, I think by the time the next world cup comes round we'll be fine though.

  • Comment number 86.

    rinsure, it's all well and good listing people that can play at 10 but totally enough to consider if they are capable of playing internationally right now.

    Hodgson is the only fit 10 you've listed that holds any international experience and as a few have already stated it wasn't all good experiences either!

    Yes you have young options but chucking them in at 10 in an away game with no experience outside them can be very detrimental as can be the added pressure of expecting them to perform from the off. In doing something like that you can ruin a player before he gets started - see the certain chap playing in Australia that you mentioned. Better to take a gradual approach to encourage player development that throw them to the wolves and see if they survive. only team I can remember making wholesale changes and having them nearly all come off was Ireland in 2000 where they brought in O'Gara, Henderson, O'Driscoll among others off a big loss to England. Even then that was for a home game against Scotland.

    Going back to 10 for a brief moment Scotland have a similar dilema for selection at Fly-half. Jackson is carrying an injury, experience but limited nature of Parks or new bloods of Laidlaw and Weir.

  • Comment number 87.

    I think that in the aftermath of the world cup win we exposed a short term dearth of talent. What this represents is a change of the guard from many stop gap players who occupied roles or who were continued far past their sell by to cover this dearth.

    I am cautiously optimistic and think that the new permanent coach will be helped by and happy with this selection.

  • Comment number 88.

    There are certainly plenty of numbers 10s in the English camp to choose from but are any of them world class? The answer is no. All are good\great at club level but we know international level is a different game. Flood will probably hold his place as first choice once he is fit again but none of the other have even proved themselves at international level so although there are 6 or 7 to choose from, none would make any international team worry in the slightest.

    However...if Farrell is as special as everyone is saying (no pressure Owen) then he will be not only world class but he could be just what England need to kick start this new generation.

  • Comment number 89.

    So as Saull hasn't been selected as an out and out 7, who are the others that could have been selected?
    Who plays 7 for NZ,SA,A,Fr,Wa,Ir,Sc,It,Ar is it an out and out 7 or is it someone who can fill in at 6 or 8 or even 4 and 5?
    Which countries have it right those with specialists playing specialist positions or those playing jack of all trades and masters of none?
    Different position but where should (if selected) Stevens play LH or TH or covering both from bench?
    There are probably many other 'capable' players who can fill in an emergency in more than one position. Banahan must be able to play somewhere other wing surely!
    Many years ago in a different sport and when occupations had to be included on UK passports I understand a certain Peter Shilton refused to have footballer as his occupation as he reckoned he couldn't play football instead insisting he should be known as a goalkeeper, which I seem recall he was pretty good at for club(s) and country!

  • Comment number 90.

    I think that we're guilty of short memories here! This time last year when England had beaten Australia home and away and we'd outplayed Wales at Cardiff, people were talking about this as the team that, barring a few retirements, would develop into World Cup winners in 2015.

    Suddenly, post RWC, England, who didn't play well but nearly as badly as some make out, are a bunch dinosaurs who need to replaced by 20 year olds works for Wales despite that fact that they get beaten more often than not!

    It's exciting to see a bunch of really talented youngsters being given their chance. I really hope that, with a clean sweep of staff and players, the chronic timidity that afflicts England teams will be replaced by some scintillating attacking rugby. Certainly, some of these new players should have been given a chance before the RWC rather than persisting with those who were undeniably past their best and/or compromised by injury.

    However, as mentioned in a previous blog, the only block to progress that remains unchanged is England's press corp. The same old boys and their various obsessions are still in place and to believe that these new players will be given any time to settle is taking naivety to a new level.

    This is what will happen...Scotland, playing in freezing drizzle and out of their minds even more than usual over the perceived injustice of the rest of us refusing to regard them as "extra-special", will grind out an attritional win in front of their baying devotees. Running rugby I think will stand little chance and the youngsters may end up paralysed in the face of such furious, irrational hatred!

    The niggles of doubt will creep in. The golden boys of a few weeks ago will go into the next game wondering if they're going to be on the end of "questions" and will turn in a lacklustre performance against a spirited Italy at home. Toys out of the pram and the same pack of pundits will tear into the new-look team and its "worrying lack of experience". The rest will of course just be the endless loop of frustration, growing siege mentality and oscillations between boundless hope and the depth of despair! In short, the old players may be gone, but the really old players are still there and the knife sharpener is never idle for long.

    Now I know that this sounds horribly pessimistic (it's January and I have a stinking cold!). I like Stuart Lancaster and would love to believe that if he were successful he might even be allowed to keep his job. I'm thrilled that some exciting prospects are back in the mix. I'm a lifelong England supporter and I would happily eat my underpants if England win the 6N. It's just that I can't see a few new caps suddenly turning the RFU and the whole England professional rugby culture into a happier, more positive beast.


  • Comment number 91.

    Talent aside, the bigger issue for the 6 N will be big game temperament. Will the lads get a chance to shine and show what they can do if the Scots are playing to the ref and winding them up or if the Irish are perfecting their new version of the choke on them? Granted, many played for the Saxons but the mental part of the game may be too big a jump. If that is the case, the big question will be whether Lancaster keeps sticking to his guns rather than pulling the plug, as Robinson did on Tait a few years back. I am optimistic that he has enough knowledge of his men to have picked those that can cope and adapt to the step up without ending up broken.

  • Comment number 92.

    I am a Saracens fan and a big fan of Owen Farrell but he is getting way too much hype. I don't see Farrell as an 13. Not quick enough. Needs more to his attacking game to feature at 10. Excellent tactical and place kicker. I believe 12 is Farrell's best long term position.

    I would like to see a backline of the following to start vs Scotland


    Farrell on the bench as 10/12 cover.

  • Comment number 93.

    I stand by comments at 10. As others have said there is some good potential out there with Farrell, Burns and Clegg but these guys are half baked and starting them at 10 would invite disaster but as #85 says by the next RWC we should have someone established. The other guys - Lamb, Geraghty, Hodgson in my view are good club players and do not have what it takes to step up. Lamb and Geraghty fade in and out of selection for their clubs. I think the jury is still out on Flood he has too many anonymous games for me and is not great on the back foot.

    In terms of the 6N opener I think Farrell has to start as I don't see Hodgson as a front line goal kicker - he doesn't kick for Sarries.

    My backline would be;


    I think the Sarries combination helps the lack of esperience which is why I incline to Barritt over some of the other bosh centres. I would slo consider using Foden on the wing and Brown at FB.

  • Comment number 94.

    "They really cannot lose even if they finish bottom"


    If you genuinely believe this I think you're extremely naive. There seems to be some bizarre press-fuelled acceptance that England have reached rock bottom. If people pulled their heads out of their rrrs's and stopped spitting with righteous outrage at the disgusting scandal that was the world cup (insert sarcastic tone that is difficult to inflect in text) then they might realise that we are reigning 6 Nations champions who - up until a bad world cup where we wrongly reverted to type - had been on a nice trajectory of improvement, both in terms of bringing through youth and playing more attractive rugby. In this broader context, if you would be satisfied with finishing bottom of the table then fair enough. But if that were to happen then I - for one - would be asking why the hell we didn't stick with Johnson!! This is not - or should not be - about 'new dawns''s about someone coming in, taking control and building on what was there. Otherwise it's another 3 years down the same drain as the Robinson and Ashton years!

    Also, another point. Farrell is a great young prospect, no doubt. Barritt has also done plenty of hard work to earn the call. But there seems to be a large group of fans who - swept in a tide of deluded positivity and misguided faith in youth for youth's sake - seem to think that an all Sarries midfield would signal a creative new dawn for the once stodgy England backline. I'm sure that even a Sarries fan would admit that of all the virtues of a Hodgson/Barritt/Farrell axis, 'creativity' would not be number 1!! I'm not saying that this is a reason for their exclusion - indeed, if it were my decision I would pick at least 2 of that 3 - but I think that some fans need to temper their expectations on this front.

  • Comment number 95.

    DERedcoat, I do like what you say on most things, and what Robinson did to talent, especially Tait was very wrong, Johnson with Cipriani was no better, a bit of a refusal to invest effort and time in young talent. A bit of either your up to it now or forget it. Is that not what makes a good coaching set up, getting the best out of that kink of talent, not just moving back to an Andy Goode and Jamie Noon when they have a bad game or two.

    However I don't think that Lancaster will be around long enough to do that right or wrong.

  • Comment number 96.

    Re Carling's rapid promotion to captain- In my eyes it all came down to a moment against France in Paris in his first season, when Carling retrieved a ball close to the English line and "did a Dean Richards" holding up the whole French team until his team mates could get there.. Here was "a rock" on which England could build, and he continues to be the one England player who seems to really get up the noses of the French- perhaps that military training.

    Re Dowson being old- As I commented before he has Saxons experience and is known by Lancaster. Perhaps he has suffered because of the Dean Richard's legacy at Leicester and among Leicester players (and ex-players like MJ etc) because Easter was moulded by Richards at Quins. It will be up to Dowson to show what he can do in training.

    Much may depend on today's news about Wood, but there is a real possibility of at least a fall-back off the bench Northampton back-row of Wood, Dowson and Clark with Croft covering the second row as he has done before. With Dickson perhaps on the bench too England could really profit from club understanding- which takes one back to the Gosforth Trio that finally allowed Peter Dixon (a deserved British Lion) to play alongside Roger Uttley in the BR, though they reversed their club positions. I think that everyone would agree that Dixon's promotion was well-deserved.

    As for the RWC final I am glad that someone else agrees with me that France deservedly ran the All Blacks so close, and yet (I was in France at the time) I heard no actual comment upon the close-up shots that seemed to reveal that McCaw's knee and fist both made contact with Parra's head. The old fashioned All Blacks' attitude was always that any body stranded across the gainline was a real "hostage to fortune" and "asked for it".

  • Comment number 97.

    @85 usedtobefast yeah as I said it's nothing against Dowson. He's on form for club and a good player. It's just his selection doesn't seem to make sense for me in terms of the team as a whole.

    @89 devilsinthedetail I see your point but picking an out and out 7 just because they are an out and out 7 rather than a 6 that can play 7 doesn't make sense to me if the 6 is a better player and could make a better job of playing at 7. Just because someone is versatile in where they play doesn't mean they won't make a better job of it than someone who specialises in one position.

    @90 Anglophone for a good part of that I agree with you. England were poor at the world cup but no where near as poor as some people were making out. However when you look at which players have gone then it probably was time for them to move on. Thompson, Wilkinson and Moody all retired so they were gone anyway. Shaw was 38 so him leaving was not much of a shock. Hape has never looked great in an England shirt, Flutey no where near top form for a long time, Easter, Cueto and Tindall could possibly have carried on for another season but it would be stretching it and the main case for keeping them in would be to have some experience playing alongside the new faces. A world cup will always lead to a a certain level of clear out and I can certainly see the case for going the whole hog now.

  • Comment number 98.

    96 Casseroleon

    "The old fashioned All Blacks' attitude was always that any body stranded across the gainline was a real "hostage to fortune" and "asked for it".

    Unless of course it's the other way round. Then it's loud calls for life bans ;-)

    Hey ho!

  • Comment number 99.

    Usual response on here. For ages people ask for young players and a new england. We get a list of new names, great players and potential for the future and I still read people complaining. What the hell do you want.

    Farrell will be awesome. He has proved it for saracens every time he plays. A centre partnership with tuilagi or barrit is exciting, even turner hall.
    I am dubious about hodgeson having a dodgy england past. But putting him in with farrell is going to help farrell ease into the england set up and take us forward.
    It is time we change. Im happy with the squad. I do not expect us to win the six nations but we have players with enough talent to win it and also to grow. Victory comes from defeat and most of englands greatest victories have been defeats.

  • Comment number 100.

    97 OnlyJoeQuin

    In truth I couldn't agree more. I'm mighty pleased that some fresh air and light has been allowed in. I'm more worried about the expectations of some fans in youth being the answer to all problems.

    Wales are constantly held up (and dropped from shoulder height ;-)) about their incredibly youthful team. In fact most are in the mid 20s like the England survivors but they have a young captain and a strangely large 19 year old winger which seems to make them appear younger. They went one stage further than England at the RWC but won the same number of games and looked very lively. My, albeit a touch partisan, observation would be that they start well, get drawn in, go behind and then always end up scrabbling to score deep in injury time. Do we really want to model ourselves on this no matter how much some pundits seem to admire it?

    The main point however is that the new boys are not supermen and will come up against some pretty wily and shameless opponents in the 6N. They will probably get beaten and then I absolutely guarantee you that media pressure will take over, probably led by the BBC in their "we must be conspicuously "neutral" when it comes to England" mode!

    I would love to see the new look team earn it spurs, win a few, lose a few, and set up a really good dynamic of positive internal competition for places. I doubt very much whether the gentlemen of the press will let that matter how much they are praising Stuart Lancaster (and themselves of course) right now!


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