5 talking points from Lancaster’s England squad

Stuart Lancaster this morning announced his squad for the QBE Autumn Internationals against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. While the majority of the changes were expected, here we pick out five talking points that have emerged from the announcement.

1. Spoilt for choice in the centres

It is the one area that has consistently caused England coaches serious headaches, but now Lancaster seems to be spoilt for choice in the centres. And just in time, too – with the World Cup two years away, there is just enough time still left for partnerships to gel. Billy Twelvetrees appears the frontrunner for 12, but Kyle Eastmond is a tantalising prospect that will push him hard. His versatility will likely see him on the bench, however. Luther Burrell is in as ‘injury cover’, so is probably third choice – should he impress in camp, however, there’s a chance he could feature given his good form in the Premiership. At outside centre, it looks like a shoot-out between Joel Tomkins and Henry Trinder. Both are worthy starters, giving Lancaster another tough decision to make. A lot of the talk at the briefing surrounded Trinder, and if Twelvetrees does get the nod at 12 then they could rekindle their successful club partnership on the international stage.

2. Corbisiero injury is huge blow

He has rapidly become one of the England’s most important players. Mako Vunipola is a valuable impact player but one of the things we learned from the Lions tour was that Corbisiero adds a vital solidity to the set piece that neither the Sarries man, nor Joe Marler, comes close to matching. The Saints prop has another knee issue – the opposite knee to the one that has caused problems in the past – and has had a small amount of fluid drained from it, requiring a two-week period of rehab. He is unlikely to be available for the Australia game, which isn’t necessarily that big an issue, given their well-documented scrummaging issues, but England desperately need him back for the Argentina and New Zealand matches.

3. Captaincy is still an issue

Lancaster said he will name his captain next week when the squad has assembled at their Leeds training camp and he has had a chance to talk to each of his ‘core leadership group’. He insists it is not an issue that bothers him, but I’m not certain that it shouldn’t be. Most of the top teams have a leader, a talisman who drives them on. Not having this player can create uncertainty, and while it can be countered to an extent by a group of senior players, it would surely be beneficial to have one man that the squad can get behind through to the World Cup. The issue is, two of the top contenders, Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood, face a fierce battle for their places, so backing one of them long term is not really possible. Geoff Parling would be someone not in that situation, but doesn’t have a great deal of captaincy experience at the top level. For all of Lancaster’s claims otherwise, it is a dilemma.

4. Picking the EPS in August has serious limitations

It essentially means players that make a serious impact in the first two months of the season cannot be fast-tracked into the squad. Northampton’s Sam Dickinson and Exeter’s Dave Ewers are prime examples of this. They are the form no.8s in England at the moment, but seeing as neither were on England’s radar from last season, they did not make either the Saxons or the Senior EPS squads in the summer. This means that they cannot be added to the squads unless there is an injury. Croft being crocked has seen Tom Johnson called into the senior squad, which is not undeserved given his good form, but his selection is more down to his being a genuine six. Dickinson has been brought into the Saxons, while Ewers is still in neither squad. Ben Morgan, who has been anonymous in a badly-beaten up Gloucester pack this year, keeps his place in the senior squad, meaning Billy Vunipola, the only other English no.8 in any sort of form so far, is almost a shoo-in for a starting spot. If Lancaster could pick the squad now, one of Dickinson or Ewers, at least, would surely be challenging him.

5. Playmaking positions not nailed down

Freddie Burns was many people’s choice for the starting no.10 shirt last season, given Owen Farrell’s conservative playing style and the Gloucester man’s brilliant form. That seems to have changed over the summer. Burns’ form has fallen away this year, and Farrell’s stint as Sexton’s understudy seems to have done him good – witness the way he invigorated Saracens’ backline against Wasps recently, having come on in the second half. Toby Flood has been in good form for the Tigers, but is it too late for him now? Certainly, he is playing better than Burns, and if the team truly is to be picked on form then he deserves the bench spot behind Farrell. At scrum-half, things are equally unclear. Lee Dickson is the form scrum-half in England, but does he have the right qualities to influence a Test match? Ben Youngs has been the number one recently but has seemed a bit cumbersome at times this season. Danny Care can be brilliant, but is he the man to control a Test match for 80 minutes? Possibly not. Youngs and Farrell is the most likely combo, but many will believe Dickson deserves a chance.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

31 thoughts on “5 talking points from Lancaster’s England squad

  1. All of these problems are causing uncertainty around the squad, but hopefully it won’t disrupt things too much.
    1. Twelvetrees will definitely play 12. After this mornings interview, I think SL is wanting to pair him with club mate Trinder, which I like the sound of.
    2. I really hope Corbs is fit. Worse case scenario and he misses all there; I’d gamble on Vunipola starting the Aus game. But Marler for the other two.
    3. Biggest issue IMO. Need a leader in the Johnson mold. Give it to Parling or Wood. And name them captain until 2015.
    4. Can this be looked at? Obviously a bit strange to pick it when players have not yet played.
    5. Youngs and Farrell. Farrell is in the best form, and the other two 9s don’t have the all round game IMO.

  2. 4. They can call up extra players the moment the IRB window opens though. The deal with the clubs is that the RFU pays money to have extra training weeks outside those on the IRB calendar, on the condition that the squads who can attend the extra weeks are named at particular times of year with particular limits on changes to that squad. If you want to name a whole new squad before the AIs then you would either have to pay a huge amount of extra money to the clubs to remove the clauses about only making a certain number of changes, or scrap the whole EPS system and sacrifice the extra training weeks it brings.

    Ewers, for example, can still be called up a week before the games and have as much preparation time with the squad as he would without the EPS system.

    1. Not sure that is true Tom – under IRB rules they can but under the EPS they have a gentleman’s agreement not to do so unless there is a critical injury and that injury cannot be covered by a Saxons player.

      Saxons .. snigger. I’m old enough to have that mean a certain denim clad “rock” band so whenever I say it I imagine the England B’s playing in denim shorts and denim waistcoats.

      1. By the way, the reason I think it’s important is that when the PRL win their HC battle with the unions they will be a) flush with cash and b) emboldened, so you can fully expect the next EPS terms to not be so favourable to England. Right now they’re moaning about the salary cap, other teams resting players etc. so making them uncompetitive in the Heiny. Once the Champions cup eliminates those you can be sure the next things to be blamed, and hence knocked out of the way, will be the limitations on the num of games their England stars can play and the limits on the num of overseas players they can use. This is, although secondary, an important point I feel in terms of deciding whether you think it’s a good thing that PRL wins a battle with the other unions and thus emasculates the RFU.

        1. Whilst the RFU are fairly incompetent I don’t think Ritchie is THAT stupid. He wont be expending capital in brokering a deal for the PRL for nothing. I think the EPS deal is a good compromise for both parties and I just cannot see club rugby ever being bigger than internationals. Maybe I’m an optimist though…

  3. Glad you noted the EPS issue as I don’t think some people realise this. I’ve been told the EPS gives Eng better access to the players than the Celts get which, as you have clarified, is just not true. Right now Gats can be looking at young Williams etc as in form players putting their hands up.

    Surely Wood as captain is a no brainer?

    1. And meanwhile Gats is also looking at North and hoping that he isn’t burnt out or not made available ahead of the the AIs. There are pros and cons to any system

      1. The North situation is a red herring. It’s the same situation as Armitage. Outside the country with the agreement all beta are off.

        1. But the EPS keeps the majority of eng talent in eng. Not saying it’s perfect but eng have not suffered as much as the other home nations with an exodus to other leagues

          1. Benjit, might be a detail I don’t understand, how does it do that? I thought they stayed because

            – salaries in England are broadly competitive
            – England won’t pick players who do not play in England.

            I don’t think the latter is anything to do with the EPS? It is probably one of the most important aspects as well – witness Cockerill threatening Lancaster that Toby Flood will leave for France unless he is in the England squad. This to me indicates that the main reason Flood is staying at Leics is to play for England, otherwise he’ll go to France and make Sextons of money.

            1. The money players would lose by not playing for England makes the French move less attractive. So it only makes sense for those at the end of their international careers (Sheridan, Shaw, Wilko, etc) or those not making the EPS (Armitages) to go.

              Take away the rule for only picking home based players and the exodus starts, then the EPS concept falls apart as you lose the player access outside of the IRB windows.

            2. No way are premiership salaries are comparable to French T14. Wilko is on £57k a month!! However in response to your point about what the EPS does to prevent the French talent drain:

              1) The compensation clubs recieve means it is in their intersts to retain their English (qualified) players. The players themsleves also get extra money for being in the EPS

              2) The EPS selection policy is unambiguous in stating that your international career is over if you play abraod. Unless you are an established internation you will not command the big salaries

              These are not totally unrelated. Also I take anything that Cockerall says with a pinch of salt. Flood is in the EPS as he still one of the 3 top fly halves in the country. He may still leave even if he is the EPS if he does not like being behind Farrell and Burns – but this is nothing to do with the EPS more to do witht hat fact that he has failed to nail down the 10 shirst over the last 10 years, and has been to 2 world cups already. Sometimes it is time to move on.

              1. Benjit,

                1) Yes, but this money is soon to be dwarfed by the new Euro deal – so the decision becomes more complex. Risk sticking with English players or sign southern hemi players in order to stay in the league and get success in Europe? Once the EPS compensation becomes a small fraction of a clubs revenue it then becomes less important.

                2) I can see some relation but I don’t think that’s really related to the EPS and how it gives Lancaster access. You can have that agreement (play abroad and you are finished) without the EPS.

                So I still see the EPS as inferior to “full access” and under risk to increased power/money clubs will get when they win the Euro cup argument. I don’t think the EPS has much to do with keeping the talent at home, it’s the economics and the chance to play for England that does that. So that’s why I think the EPS is there to keep the clubs happy and avoid revolt, it doesn’t help England as much as full and unfettered access whenever they want would.

              2. PS. There must be some measure of comparable salaries or most of Saracens foreign contingent would be in France by now?

                1. The French salary cap is slight more than double the English salary cap.

                  So whilst you can still earn a lot on the Premiership, I wouldn’t say that it is comparable.

                  The EPS seems to work, and I’m not too worried about the Premiership teams having more money; the players still have a desire to play for England, and the EPS means we can hold of the players we want.

                  The Trinder situation is a good example of the flexibility of the EPS. He wasn’t selected in the EPS or the Saxons, but SL was still able to call him up. There are ways around it and it seems to be working.

                  The timing of the EPS announcements isn’t ideal, but he agreement appears to work.

                2. Jacob, I agree. My point isn’t that the EPS is rubbish, it’s that

                  a) it’s not as good as the way it works in Ire/Wal/Sco where Unions get total access to players whenever they want, hence my original comment about Jordan Williams and the original article talking about Dave Ewers.

                  b) I think it could be under threat as the clubs power and finances increase (so revenue from the EPS itself declines as a portion).

                  It’s a decent enough system for England right now, better than what they had before for sure.

                3. Completely agree.

                  Unfortunately we do not have as much control as Wales, Ireland or Scotland. But with the players actually staying in our country it means we may well do in the future. Wales only have total control over Welsh based players (is that right!?), so the more players leave, the less control they will have.

                  It will be interesting to see what happens. The issue still sits with the players though. All the time there is a salary cap, the England players will be financially better off putting England first. If we are to compare it to football, that is where it fell down.

  4. Make a clear choice for the captain please. I think Wood should be the man. A good leader all around, no issues on discipline or whatsoever and always steady. Well respected all around , an excellent work rate and young enough to hang around there for a few seasons. Can move around on 3 positions as well.

    1. My problem with Wood for England captain is the fact that he does not captain his club.

      If they don’t see him as fulfilling that leadership role, it makes it very difficult to understand why he should be captain of the national side

      1. Not so sure as it happens a lot eg Warburton. Diff teams and coaches need different things and often being a club and national captain is just too much work.

  5. 4. Form is temporary, class is permanent. Do we really want to go back to the revolving door selection policy of previous regimes. Let’s judge Morgan when he’s playing behind a decent front 5. Ewers looks great and I suspect he will be brought into the saxons in January, but would you really parachute him into the EPS based on 6 matches? I really don’t see the EPS as that limited and has served England much better than the old system.

  6. I have read all the of the above and I think what is most important is , that England use these up coming games, the RBS Six NationS, and their 2014 tour to New Zealand to find out what their best combinations leading into RWC 2015. For myself and although I understand the “Politics”this guy Ewers must surely come into the SL plans. I have watched Exeter in HC and this guy has a big future. I thing Youngs/Farrell are best combination at 9/10.

  7. Still don’t see the massive fuss about Wood. He’s very solid and dependable. But i’d still go for Robshaw.

    6. Robshaw (c)
    7. Kvesic
    8. Morgan

    is a tasty backrow and a well balanced one at that.

  8. I don’t think England have ever been short of good centres, they’ve just not paired them well since Tindall and Greenwood took the stage. There have been lots of good centres made to look bad in combination with others.

    1. Wookie, whereas you might be right, I’d like some examples to back up that last statement as I’m struggling to think of anything other than journeymen.

      1. Flutey, Allen, Tait, Hipkiss, Barkley… I think they’d all constitute good players (perhaps not in the Greenwood league, but still guys that impressed in the Prem) that never made it happen on the international stage.

        1. All good centres at the time, and whilst we are all very excited about these players, I remember being excited about Shane Gerahty.

          The reality is, they have a long way to go.

          We may look back in five years in astonishment that we ever thought Burrell/Trinder/Eastmond/Joseph were going to be anything more than ‘journeyman’.

          The reality is that if they do not perform on the international stage, they won’t ever be a Greenwood.

        2. …. And a class below the likes of BOD, Darcy, Rougerie, Roberts, etc.

          We’ve had a lot of good players, but not many that have looked anything close to world class, certainly not with any consistency.

          We’ve only produced one world class centre (Manu) since Greenwood, at least we now have a really encouraging crop that another couple may emerge from.

          1. Completely agree with that. I’m optimistic that Twelvetrees and Manu can become a great centre pairing for England for 2015 and beyond!

            Manu is already world class IMO, and Twelvetrees has the potential to be.

            The rest coming through will have to do well to get a run of games unless either of these two have bad injury issues.

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