Yesterday’s England squad announcement contained few real surprises – those expected to get call-ups were, and by and large there was little in the way of left-field excitement. The selection of Henry Trinder over Jonathan Joseph, however, does point to a faith in form over reputation.
The Gloucester flyer has been in fine fettle this season and impressed towards the end of the last campaign, too, despite having another injury-disrupted season. He has leapfrogged the centres in the Saxons, having not even been named in the original 65-man senior and Saxons squads in the summer. Joseph, who was himself demoted to the Saxons, has not lived up to the immense potential he showed a few years ago and has been overlooked for promotion back to the senior squad this time around.
Lancaster is confident Trinder can make the step up.
“I’ve coached Henry quite a few times, particularly with the Saxons, and he was a key player in our Churchill Cup win a couple of seasons ago,” said the England head coach. “Speaking to the guys at Gloucester, they say he’s had the best preseason they’ve ever seen, so we know he’s fit and in form. He’s performed exceptionally well and, on merit, he deserves to be in the squad.
“It’s tough on one or two others, but I think when we’re picking on form and fitness he should be in there and fighting for a place in the team.”
Trinder’s selection would see a distinct shift in playing style from the previous occupant of that 13 shirt – one Manu Tuilagi. While the latter’s game is power-based, the former’s quick feet and rapid acceleration mean he is far more likely to run round you than through you. It is a strategy that has been lost on several England centre partnerships down the years, and one that should be greeted with cheers by England fans.
Lancaster, too, is making all the right noises about wanting to play attacking, attractive rugby.
“I think you need that attacking threat in your backline, and you’ve got to have an intent to play – look at the New Zealand and South Africa game and the way that unfolded,” said Lancaster. “Certainly that will be our mindset – you also need that balance in the backline of ball players, physicality, and some finishers.
“But I do think you’ll not win big games without having the mindset to attack and having players who can create things.”
The importance of well-oiled combinations can never be overstated at test match level, especially given the paucity of training time together afforded the England players before their first match. As such, an all-Gloucester pairing of Billy Twelvetrees and Henry Trinder is looking increasingly likely, meaning Saracens’ Joel Tomkins – the only other out and out 13 in the squad – would miss out. It is harsh on player that has also had a storming start to the season, but Trinder’s partnership with Twelvetrees makes him the more attractive option.
The inside centre, who himself only made his debut earlier this year, will be the most senior man in the midfield, and Lancaster is looking for him to step up into more of a leadership role.
“It’s a great opportunity for him, I’m really pleased with the way he stepped up at the weekend, particularly with his leadership of the team,” noted Lancaster.
“There was a lot more control in his game, and that’s what we’ll be looking for him to show in the camps and force our hands and go with him in the first game.”
Elsewhere in the team, an injury to Alex Corbisiero has thrown a proverbial spanner in the works when it comes to front row selection. Lancaster is confident, however, that in Mako Vunipola he has a man that is ready to step into the breach.
“Speaking to Graham, he really feels he (Vunipola) has benefitted from the new scrum engagement process; he feels he’s really stepped up in that area, and the other component pieces of his game are of the highest level, we believe.
“He’s backed up his Lions experiences, and there’s no hangover from that. He’s in good condition and he does everything very well.”
The other area of slight concern is at number eight, where Ben Morgan has looked off the pace this season in a Gloucester pack that has gone backwards more often than it has forwards. Billy Vunipola is in great form, and Lancaster admits that it will take a huge step-up from Morgan this weekend to force his hand.
“It’s a big game for him (Morgan) this weekend, no doubt about it,” he commented. “It is a competitive position, our backrow. Billy Vunipola’s had an outstanding start to the season, and Ben obviously missed last weekend so it’s a huge game for him in terms of how we marry our backrow together going into these games.”
With just two years to go until a World Cup on home soil, time is in short supply for players to put forward their cases for selection. It may have come at the expense of an injury to a rival, but Trinder’s glimpses of good form over the past few injury-ravaged seasons have convinced coaches and fans alike that he is a player of international quality. Now is his time. A chance on the biggest stage in rugby is well deserved – let’s just hope that he takes it.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images