Second test selection shows Lancaster is ready to roll the dice


Rarely has there been so much excitement, or so much doubt, surrounding an England team selection. The unavailability of so many players for the first test was a horrendous administrative error, and one that potentially ruined England’s best chance of beating New Zealand on home soil for just the third time ever, but if there is one silver lining it’s that this week has been on another level with regards to the excited chatter surrounding selection for the second test.

Which of the returning players would slot back in at the expense of someone who performed well last weekend? Which players would be deemed to have done a good enough job to keep their places, regardless of the return of the Six Nations stalwarts?

In the end, there are five player changes to the starting XV, with two positional changes. Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell resume their Six Nations partnership in the centre, with Manu Tuilagi shifting to the right wing in place of Marland Yarde, who shifts to the other flank as Jonny May drops out of the squad. Danny Care and Owen Farrell start at half-back, as Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns drop to the bench, while Tom Wood comes onto the blindside flank for James Haskell, who is also dropped.

From first test performances, Haskell and Kyle Eastmond can feel hardest done by. Haskell was superb, fronting up physically to the much-vaunted New Zealand trio and more often than not coming out on top. Tom Wood, after a gruelling and emotional few weeks with Northampton, now has to step immediately into the breach.

Eastmond was a revelation in the 12 shirt. He is capable of doing things no England centre can do, with his quick feet and vision. He is a quality distributor, too, and held up in defence against the not-inconsiderable challenge of Ma’a Nonu.

In the midst of all the excitement, however, take a moment to think back to the Six Nations. Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell were a revelation as a partnership. Burrell’s ability to hit a gap and time his run to arrive at just the right moment saw him cross the line three times in five games.

Twelvetrees comes in for a lot of stick these days, but it is easy to underestimate his influence on the backline, and in particular Owen Farrell. Farrell does not have the same level of attacking instinct of a Freddie Burns or a Danny Cipriani, so knowing Twelvetrees is there as an option to distribute secondarily relaxes Farrell. Those moaning about his inclusion have short memories – it is a little over a year since Brad Barritt was the incumbent at 12.

Many positives have come from Lancaster’s tenure thus far – the redefinition of a true England ‘culture’, the reestablishment of the England pack as a force to be reckoned with, the transformation of several young players into first team regulars. One accusation that had been levelled at him, however, was a conservative nature in selection – the persistence with the likes of Barritt, and Ashton when patently not on form, had people scratching their heads.

That is not true any more. The move of Manu Tuilagi to the wing is an incredibly brave decision. The giant centre has not played there regularly since junior level, and given that defensive organisation and spatial awareness – two qualities of paramount importance in a winger – are far from his strong suits, it is even more of a gamble. Expect Aaron Cruden and Ma’a Nonu to chip and grubber it in behind him all day.

But in attack, he has all the qualities to thrive on the wing. He has much more pace than people realise, and if he finds himself in a bit more space then he can combine that pace with his obvious power much more effectively than he can in the centre, where he often takes the ball from a more standing start. It will also allow him to roam a bit more, and no doubt England have been working on moves that will see him taking the ball from the first or second receiver.

The other selections of note are in the pack, where Rob Webber and Geoff Parling retain their places ahead of Dylan Hartley and Courney Lawes. Webber’s makes sense as Hartley could be a bit rusty still, plus the Bath man was exemplary in the first test, but leaving Lawes on the bench is a mistake. Yes, Parling is a British and Irish Lion and lineout guru – although he offers a lot more than just that, it must be said – but Lawes is in the form of his life right now. He has proven that he can run the lineouts, and his tackling this season has been superb – the timing as well as the physicality. He will add impact off the bench, but he could have had that impact for the entire game.

All in all, though, this selection shows Lancaster is ready to roll the dice. Not all of the decisions will pay off. In fact, one could backfire spectacularly. But, 15 months out from the World Cup, now is the time to be trying these things out. If it clicks, that team could be one of the most dangerous in the world. If it doesn’t, at least we won’t die wondering.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

26 thoughts on “Second test selection shows Lancaster is ready to roll the dice

  1. Brown will be busy this test!

    The one thing that will frighten NZ is that now Manu has the passport to hit them from anywhere.

  2. Enjoyed this article other than calling the selection of Parling a mistake. I can see the arguments for including Lawes – his form has been outstanding, but I think to outright call is a mistake is wrong.

    I really like the look of the side this weekend – and I still think that we can win this weekend.

    1. Fair enough, perhaps mistake is too strong a word. I’m a huge fan of Parling – I think he gets unfairly pigeon-holed as exclusively a lineout man, when there is so much more than that to his game – but I’ve been so impressed with Lawes at the business end of the season that I just feel he had to start.

      Launchbury and Parling is a great combination, don’t get me wrong, but personally I think Lawes is playing better than all four locks that will run out on Saturday.

      1. Probably more the use of the word mistake than the point you were getting at to be fair! I know what you meant.

        Lawes certainly has been outstanding towards the end of the season, and he can run a line out on our ball, Parling does a fantastic of disrupting opposition ball.

        Launchbury for me is undroppable, so it was a direct choice between those two. This way round tends to make more sense from an impact perspective – so that is why I tend to agree with SL on this particular selection. I’m hoping Lawes comes on with half an hour to go really pissed off that he hasn’t started. Sounds like a perfect situation.

    2. I’m with you on this Jacob. As he kept Webber it is right to keep Parling, they were a great partnership in the lineout last week. Also Lancaster has to address the issue of England fading in the last quarter and bringing on a very hungry and proven set of replacements could be the master stroke

  3. Who would have thought that, should the ABs be carving us up down their left flank (think Burrell at the end of the France 6N game), we could be bringing Ashton on to sure up the defences!

  4. Kudos to SL for having the balls to make these kind of selection decisions though.

    After last week’s game, a lot of coaches would have just picked their best (tried and tested) side and gone looking for the glory.

    Ironic, but the scheduling fiasco has really played into England’s hands :-)

        1. Gatland didn’t need that either – the game served one purpose – a political ploy to remind boys who sign for English clubs what they risk losing. Owen Williams at Leics for one got the message.

          All of this “brave” selection talk is interesting – if Eng win then yes, he was brave and clever, etc. If they get brutalised then no doubt he should have picked X, not put Y out of position, etc. Once you discard the French I can’t think of a single top-level coach who is a) not smart and b) mental. So yes, SL has thought through all of this, but then so would anyone else. The proof will be in whether this is the team that does what is needed.

          SL has managed to take the mixed curse/blessing of England, an overabundance of selection options (far more than any other country in the world), and thus far turn it into a useful advantage. He’s the first English coach to do this for as long as I can remember (yes, I even count Clive amongst the ones who didn’t do it well in the long run).

          But all the Gats bashing is tiresome. He’s got more wins against SL than losses and he’s got more titles than him. I’m sure SL himself won’t be happy until that equation is turned around, but until then I’m sure he wouldn’t try and make any capital from the idea that he’s better than Gats.

          1. As an Englishman, I’ve got nothing against Gatland.

            I wish he’d been at the helm for us over the years instead of Wales.

            Good points about SL. His only black mark (from me) so far would be his poor use of subs but hopefully he’ll get that right on Saturday.

  5. I agree Jacob, a great article.

    The Parling vs Lawes debate is incredibly tough. It does seem wrong to call the selection of Parling a mistake, but at the same time it seems reasonable to say not selecting Lawes is a mistake. He has been the form lock of the premiership. Arguable a Parling/Lawes combination would be best (last match was not Launchbury’s best), but what does that do to the balance…

    I am thinking of 3 possibilities:
    1) Lawes is a bit tired after a long season. Parling has had a relatively short season due to injury
    2) While he has great in the 6N the ABs put a lot of pressure on Lawes lineout last autumn, whereas last week we dominated the lineout.
    3) Last match we did not look particularly lacking in physicality (though there is some debate on this point, especially as Haskell has been dropped)

    I hope this article is wrong about the Parling selection, but I am a Lawes fan (particularly on his current form)

    As an aside to the above, might we see a Parling/Lawes combo in the final 15/20mins.

  6. I have no issue with Manu on the wing, as someone has suggested above, he could be our North, or Banahan mark 2! But its worth taking the risk for the potential upside. Late on can you imagine a tired defence having to face wave after wave of Lawes, Billy V, Burrell & Manu!

    It’s having no FB cover that worries me. Some have suggested that 12t may cover – but will he last 80 after such a long break. I imagine the plan is to take him off around 60 and have Burrell and Manu in the centres and Ashton on the wing. I read elsewhere that Burns has played FB for Glos. Is that true? What is his cover defence like and how secure is he under the high ball?

  7. Its funny isn’t it, that there is much debate about Parling/Lawes, but virtually nothing about Ben/Billy.

    I am not so bothered about the Second Row selection, but I do wonder who Lawes will come on for. Launchbury slipped below his own high standards (though not considerably) last week, and there must be some considerations about his ability to keep going after such a long season.

    Eastmond, as Jamie says; “is capable of doing things no England centre can do”, and has no apparent weakness when compared to Twelvetrees. Don’t really get that one.

  8. Lancaster on Tuilagi on the wing:

    “It was 6-12 months ago that I first thought of it as an option, I wanted to be certain that Manu was comfortable with it, particularly in defence where we defend with our wings pushed up. He has trained there and the longer it has gone on the more comfortable he has felt.”

    That is very comforting- he hasn’t been thrown into it with a week of training, but has been worked with over the past year for this possibility.

  9. Good to know Henry, where did you get this quote?

    After all the games complaining about Barrit and Ashton being in and Billy V not being in, I don’t know why we all think Lancaster goes about making rushed decisions. His form says that he will only play someone after a fair bit of training with the squad (see Yarde, Watson, Eastomond, Ford). Why do we think he will not apply the same logic to any kind of positional change.

    Given the whole Burns debate for the last game, if SL is happy with Tuilagi’s training on the wing I think it is definitely worth a shot.

    1. From the Telegraph website- the more I have been reading of Lancaster’s interview quotes, the more calm I feel about this selection! He has obviously considered everything we have griped about on here, and a lot more ha…

  10. I’m, for the most part, in agreement with the Squad. A little suprised with Tuilagi move to the wing but then I thought about it some more and it was on the cards from the get go. I’m a fan as Benjit said of taking 12T off at 60 mins and then bring on Ashton (after the season he has had to knuckle down and yearn for the shirt again) to cover the wing for Manu to go back to the centre. It tries out two new combos in one match. I’m suprised with the likes of Foden or Goode not making the bench as their is no primary fall back cover and with the potential extra work Mike Brown will be getting it seems a bit odd not to have cover for the 15 slot.

    Anyway I am happy with the squad (dont get why Dickson is not on the bench for Youngs) and really think we may have the Golden oppurtunity here, especially as Daag has had to pull out. I’m thinking it will be close with a much improved NZ side but i think it will be a 70+ min score that seals it. Probably a penalty.

    Just need to work on the restart and handling errors and its happy days.

    Predictions for the score?

    I’m thinking (hoping) a figure around 12 – 14 to England – low score, big physicality.

  11. All very interesting……..

    If you accept that rugby is a 23 man game these days then having Lawes, Vunipola and Hartley to come of the bench is a massive boost. Assuming SL uses his subs at the right time – not a strong point of his so far. Hopefully he won’t pull off care after 60 minutes if he’s playing a blinder.

    Feel bad for Eastmond – I really think he’s the man for the 12 shirt. I suppose if you have an excess of good centres and a dearth of good wings then it makes sense to put your hardest running, poorest passing man on the wing. Ashton is on the bench if the Manu experiment fails. If Wade was fit I think Manu would still be at 13.

    I’d like to have seen Cipriani on the bench as he offers a lot more than Farrell in attack but I fear it’ll take a string of injuries for him to really be in contention again.

  12. Stats say we score fewer points in the last 20 than any other 20 minute period.This is the best bench we have had for years.For me the selection is very astute thinking

  13. Interesting point, the bench is certainly stronger Saturday than for a long time so hopefully that will tip the balance Englands way.

    I have my reservations with Tuilagi on the wing but no doubting it adds firepower in attacking phases, especially set plays.

    Only concern is we still don’t have a top class replacement in the front row so Marler and Wilson may be pushed as long as possible again – will this leave defensive gaps?

        1. Not familiar with him either TBH. Hopefully he’s aware of how much the Kiwis obstruct defenders off the ball.

          Steve Hansen was saying that it would be good to have a three match series refereed by the same ref. Makes sense in terms of consistency I suppose.

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