England rookies ready to contribute
Stuart Lancaster is adamant that the four new faces in England’s 35-man Six Nations squad can contribute to the 2015 World Cup.
Stuart Lancaster is adamant that the four new faces in England’s 35-man Six Nations squad can contribute to the 2015 World Cup - they would not have been picked otherwise.
Hit by injuries to eight frontline players - including five 2013 British and Irish Lions - the England head coach has included precocious uncapped quartet George Ford, 20, Jack Nowell, 20, Ed Slater, 25, and Anthony Watson, 19.
Developing for next year’s showpiece tournament while winning in the short-term - starting with the Six Nations opener against France on February 1 - is a constant balancing act but in challenging the youngsters to show they should be picked in Paris, Lancaster believes he can do both.
“These are players who can contribute to 2015, yes, it’s exciting,” said Lancaster.
“To bring these lads in now is a great statement about the quality of the rugby they’ve been playing in the Premiership, the academy programmes they’ve come through and the international age-grade programme, which shows how they are ready so young.
“They’ve been picked on form and the next step for them is to get into the team.”
England’s most-capped current international Toby Flood has been left out in favour of his former Leicester Tigers protégé Ford, with the 60-cap flyhalf set to join Toulouse at the end of the season.
Intensified by the current age profile of his squad – 11 are aged 23 or under – Lancaster was keen for Flood to remain available by staying with an English club but he fully respects the 28-year-old’s “lifestyle decision” to move abroad.
While Flood will not add to his international caps in the immediate future, Lancaster outlined the special qualities that Ford is already displaying in his fledgling top-flight career.
“In my conversations with Toby I explained that [if he moved abroad next season] I would have to bring someone in for the Six Nations and the New Zealand tour to give them the experience because going into next season’s internationals without him here would be a big gap to fill.
“I think he understands that and respects that. He’s made his decision, we’ve made ours, but we still get on well and the door is never shut.
“George’s temperament is the standout quality he has; he doesn’t get fazed by playing on the big occasions. His goal-kicking is improving, he’s worked hard on his defence, his game management is excellent and his ability to take on and beat defenders ranks as one of the highest in the Premiership. Put all that together and the time is right to bring him in.
“He’s had his dad [former England defence coach Mike Ford] analysing games with him since he was four years old so his understanding of the game is excellent. He stands up and talks to players and educates them about what they need to do. And these are players who are 29, 30, 31 years old – that’s what makes him special.”
Of the injuries to Manu Tuilagi (chest), Tom Croft (foot), Marland Yarde (hip), Alex Corbisiero (knee), Christian Wade (foot), Geoff Parling (shoulder), Ben Foden (foot) and David Wilson (calf), Lancaster is most upset by the loss of Wade and Yarde.
Two young, exciting but different former England Under-20 wings may be sidelined but two young, exciting, different England Under 20 wings have been called-in as replacements: Exeter Chiefs’ Nowell and Bath’s Watson.
The duo, prominent performers in last season’s maiden Junior World Championship victory, offer varying skillsets in the wide channels and Lancaster is excited about their potential.
“Anthony’s point of difference is his athletic ability and his temperament. His ability to beat defenders but also his defensive toughness, he’s not phased or not intimidated by defending and he’s going to need to demonstrate that to us to be considered for the first game in France.
“Jack is different to Anthony. He spends a lot of time off his wing and has a great ability to influence the game. He’s a bit like Mike Brown in his ability to beat the first defender and break tackles, he probably does not have the out-and-out pace of the others but he has other points of difference.”
Lancaster added that Slater is the type of “big, hard and uncompromising” forward needed in winning teams.