The announcement of England’s squad for their summer tour of Uruguay and Argentina has been eagerly awaited for some time now, and although it sat well and truly in the shadow of the British and Irish Lions squad announcement last week, it’s an important tour for English rugby. Any tour by one of the home nations that falls on a Lions’ year will always be developmental to a certain level, but the grumbles about Stuart Lancaster’s increasingly conservative squad selection towards the end of the Six Nations should be quietened, at least temporarily, with his latest selection boasting a number of young and dynamic players.
A total of 11 uncapped players have been selected with Rob Buchanan, Calum Clark, Matt Kvesic, Ed Slater, Henry Thomas and Billy Vunipola representing the forwards, whilst Kyle Eastmond, Jonny May, Joel Tomkins, Christian Wade and Marland Yarde all join England’s contingent of backs. Their inclusions will help breathe fresh life into English rugby, particularly those in the centres and wings, where much of the criticism fell on Lancaster towards the end of the Six Nations. In the forwards, Thomas and Vunipola will both hope to use the tour as a platform to challenge England incumbents Dan Cole and Ben Morgan for places in future England squads, with the elder pair having faced little competition thus far in their international careers.
Whilst youth is the theme of the squad, several more seasoned heads have been included in the touring party, including Mike Brown, Alex Corbisiero, Ben Foden, Tom Johnson, and the squad’s captain, Tom Wood. With Chris Robshaw being rested this summer, it gives Lancaster the perfect opportunity to see how Wood steps up to the added responsibilities of captaining the international side. Robshaw has done a great job as England captain over the last year, but it was only arguably an injury to Wood last year which allowed Robshaw the opportunity, with fans and media alike expecting Wood to be named the next long-term England captain prior to the autumn internationals. This summer he will get his chance to lay down a claim for the mantle.
Alongside Robshaw, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Danny Care and Toby Flood have also all been rested, whilst James Haskell has not been considered on medical grounds. This provides the perfect opportunity for the likes of Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees to push themselves further up the international pecking order. With Burns the only out-and-out fly-half in the squad, it is possible that Twelvetrees or Alex Goode will be used as the backup fly-half, but shortens the odds considerably on Burns starting all three games at 10.
Exeter Chiefs’ fans may feel slightly disgruntled with the squad given their excellent end of season form, as Johnson is their only representative on the tour, and continues the recent tradition England have shown of largely ignoring the Devon-based club, and even the inclusion of the club’s head coach Rob Baxter in the tour’s coaching staff doesn’t seem enough to buck this trend. London Wasps’ trio Elliot Daly, Joe Simpson and Tom Varndell as well may count themselves unlucky, having enjoyed great seasons and also missed out on selection.
Everyone on the plane will be heading out to South America with something to prove, but certain individuals can take big steps forward in their international careers with good performances. If tighthead prop Thomas can impress against the notorious Argentinean front row, then he could well catapult himself above David Wilson in the pecking order, with the Bath prop failing to really push Cole for his place in the XV in recent years. Worcester openside Kvesic is another whose international ambitions could be furthered with a series of good performances, especially if Wood excels in his role as captain, and potentially challenges Robshaw for the long-term title.
Outside of the pack, rugby league converts Kyle Eastmond and Joel Tomkins will be keen to show they can replicate the potential they have shown at club level, on the international scene, and offer an alternative to the sledgehammer approach of England’s current centre pairing. One of the most talked about men in rugby in recent weeks, Wade will want to lay down a marker and show he has the abilities to play at the highest level, both offensively and defensively, but knows he will be pushed hard by the other young wingers in the squad, May and Yarde.
People will quibble about a selection here and there in the squad, but it has generally been well received. There is a nice blend of youth and experience, and arguably any more uncapped players in the squad would have caused a void in leadership, something which could be disastrous against a perennially underestimated Argentinean side. Only time will tell how many of these players feature again once the Lions heavyweights are back in the England camp, but Lancaster has shown enough in this selection to ward off those critiques of him being conservative, even if it is with a helping hand from Warren Gatland and the Lions.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Their are rumours that Will Fraser was not considered for the tour because of a shoulder injury that requires surgery.