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