It is tough to know what to make of Lancaster’s England team for Argentina. There are a few bold calls, in the selection of Marler over Corbisiero (who may still be recovering from injury) and the continuation of the inexperienced second row pairing of Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, despite the recovering from concussion of Lion Geoff Parling.
The overwhelming feeling, however, is that Lancaster has missed a trick here. Where is the X Factor? Where is the excitement? Yes, Wade and Yarde have suffered unfortunately timed injuries, but the manner in which they have been replaced is disappointing.
The likes of Dickson, Twelvetrees and Tomkins have been retained and given another go – which is fair enough; to drop a player after one bad game is never a good idea (see: Allen, Tait).
However, the feeling that persists is: if not now, then when?
This autumn, the Argentina game was Lancaster’s last chance to try something new. No disrespect to the Pumas, but they are comfortably the weakest team England face in the QBE series. There is no way he will throw someone in at the deep end against the All Blacks – quite rightly, I might add – to win their first cap, or make their first start of the autumn. A game against the World Champions is not the time to experiment.
I completely understand the idea of including players that have been around the squad that week (hence the selection of Foden on the wing), but if it was obvious Wade and Yarde might struggle to make it this weekend (the latter was injured last weekend, and the former early this week apparently), why not bring someone in as cover? A Jonny May, or a Charlie Sharples? That way they could have had a week of training with the squad, and been involved (at least as cover) this weekend.
Instead they have persisted with Ashton, over whom debate continues to rage (although there can be few left championing his cause). He was once one of the best wingers around, but these days just doesn’t seem to have the confidence of old. On top of that, he will know that he was in line to be dropped this weekend, only for injuries to hand him his starting spot back. Hardly likely to inspire confidence and make him feel relaxed, is it?
The selection of Alex Goode on the bench is baffling too, given the fact that there is one player pretty much every single England fan is dying to see in an England shirt ready and available to fill that number 23 shirt. Indeed, many people believed Kyle Eastmond’s versatility would see him fill that role of super-sub for years to come.
So, given that Eastmond and Goode were part of the same group of players released to their clubs on Tuesday, why has Goode, who has been given more than a fair crack at international level and more often than not been found wanting, been called back into the squad in favour of Eastmond? I repeat: if not now, then when?
All the excitement of seeing a back three of Wade, Yarde and Brown has, in the space of two ill-timed physio’s reports, completely dissipated. Of course, if England produce the kind of free-flowing, high-intensity rugby they did against New Zealand last year then this will all be forgotten. But that hasn’t happened since that day, which is becoming an increasingly fading memory. It seems unlikely that it will do so now, especially without Tuilagi, who played his best game in an England shirt that day.
A final word on Wade. We were all hoping he would finally get his shot at Twickenham against top class opposition, but injury has cruelly robbed him of his chance. Will he turn out to be this generation’s James Simpson-Daniel – always excellent in the Premiership but perennially injured when it comes to international periods? Let’s hope not.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images