Amidst all the talk and press about the British & Irish Lions heading to Australia, many of the select few who missed out on Gatland’s pick will be turning their attention to Argentina, and the two tests they face against Los Pumas. Surely Lancaster will look to bring in a few, inexperienced faces to make the most of the large void left by the likes of Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi. With two games against the Baabaas on the May 26th and a South American XV on June 2nd, it would be great to introduce a few uncapped players to make the most of the attacking, open rugby.
Even though England’s backline is likely to take a very much similar shape to the team that came short of the Six Nations and the Grand Slam, there is plenty of space to work with for Lancaster, Baxter and Gustard in the forward pack. A return to fitness for Alex Corbisiero means that he is the likely contender for the 1 shirt, coming up against Harlequins Joe Marler, who at times this season has demonstrated his weakness at the scrum. With Corbisiero not finding the sort of form he displayed when first donning an England jersey, maybe there will be an opening for an uncapped Loose Head? Or perhaps Gloucester’s Nick Wood will try to make his mark and secure the shirt. On the opposite side of the scrum, in the absence of Dan Cole, David Wilson will be the most experienced Prop on the tour. Having been named as the next big thing by a few pundits and Rowntree himself, Sale’s Henry Thomas could also make his international debut, however, after another season with the occasional injury and a poor one for the Sharks, maybe Lancaster will look elsewhere for scrummaging stability. Doran-Jones, who is versatile and mobile may be recalled, whilst Dan Murphy has performed well for the Cherry & Whites this season.
Moving onto the figurehead of the scrum, Lancaster will be without both Hartley and Youngs, who surprisingly both achieved a Lions call up. Therefore it seems very likely that London Irish’s David Paice will get the nod after being a consistent performer for the Saxons over recent years. Wasps’ Tom Lindsay and Bath’s Rob Webber are also likely possibilities with other wildcard’s such as 22 year old, Jamie George who has found it hard to being third fiddle to South African’s Schalk Brits and John Smit at Saracens. Without Hartley and Youngs, Argentina may look to put pressure on England’s set piece.
Having had a sublime Six Nations, Joe Launchbury is set to be England’s first choice Lock, whilst Courtney Lawes stating his intent to show his true class looks likely to start beside him. However, there is plenty of superb English Second Row’s at the moment, with the Tigers not only possessing Lion Geoff Parling, but also Ed Slater and former Worcester man, Graham Kitchener. Both have been outstanding this season and I have no doubt that both will be picked, with Lawes’ ability to cover at 6. Looking ahead to the 2015 RWC, there are a few more faces making themselves known, particularly James Cannon, who is becoming a big hit with the Adams Park faithful.
Even though Robshaw missed out on the Lions squad, it looks certain that at some point he will be called upon to do a duty, however if all remains thumbs up down under, then Robshaw will retain the captaincy and the 7 shirt for the tough tests against the Pumas. Partnering Robshaw at Blindside Flanker is likely to be Tom Wood, who has regained good form coming into the backend of the season. With Haskell likely to be taken, the spare spots could be taken by Calum Clark, and soon to be Gloucester man, Matt Kvesic. After showing his prowess, pace and power on numerous occasions, and sometimes singlehandedly helping Worcester to the odd win, Kvesic is definitely a prospect that Lancaster will want to give some game time too and the former England U20 could really make a statement if Robshaw ends up with Gatland and his team.
At the back of the pack, Ben Morgan will remain Lancaster’s first choice as the young man, formerly of Llanelli Scarlets, has expanded his game and is beginning to look the full package. Hopefully as Lancaster looks to the future, Billy Vunipola who is headed to Allianz Park this summer, will get a look in, as Thomas Waldrom seems to be falling out of favour with Richard Cockerill.
Behind the scrum, as aforementioned, it looks quite similar to that of the Autumn and the start of the year. With Youngs missing, Care is likely to take top spot, and with Lee Dickson, Joe Simpson and consistent performer Richard Wigglesworth, all possibilities, the second spot at the moment seems inconclusive. Outside Care will be Freddie Burns who now has the chance to prove his worth and play some entertaining attacking rugby, something which Farrell doesn’t quite offer. Toby Flood is still looking sharp, yet, International selection for Flood looks to be coming to a close in the not too distant future. Maybe Lancaster will look to Flood’s apprentice, Ford or even pick young Chief, Henry Slade, in an attempt to nail down a third string future, England 10.
With battering ram Tuilagi gone, defensive stalwart Brad Barritt should, deservedly, retain his spot. Jonathan Joseph who has remained in the shade over the last year, looks a cert, and Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetrees can kick on from his classy caps in the Six Nations. In need of another Outside Centre, potentially Henry Trinder will make his debut, but Anthony Allen has also been tipped to go.
Finally, England’s Back Three will remain pretty much the same, with all the Wingers and Full Backs from the recent Internationals available. If Lancaster increases the size of his squad a little, which I hope he does, there has to be a spot for try scoring machine, Christian Wade, who is joint top try scorer of the regular season with his Wasps teammate, Tom Varndell. Team mate Elliot Daly might get a chance to shine if Brown or Goode are called in as a replacement for the Lions. Exeter Chief Jack Nowell was the standout LV= Cup player, and may even jump the cue for a trip to South America. Even though Dave Strettle has oozed quality in a Saracens shirt in recent months, his International pedigree is questionable, and with Ashton also not at his best, maybe Sharples and May, two of the Shed’s favourites, could make it on the plane. And wouldn’t it be great to see Matt Tait back in an England shirt, considering he has played superbly well this season, and has shown glimpses of his form back in the 2007 World Cup!
All in all, even though the large percentage of the attention will be on the Lions, there is no reason not to be excited and inquisitive when discussing Lancaster’s options. Understanding the need to begin to build for the future will hopefully mean quite a few young, fresh faces and also a more attacking brand of rugby. However, maybe Lancaster will look to keep the squad similar to finish the season on a high. Let’s hope those who missed out can let Gatland take note of his mistake.
Predicted Team to travel to Argentina-(based on no injuries and no cover for the Lions)
Based on a 33 Man Squad
Props: Alex Corbisiero, Paul Doran-Jones, Joe Marler, Henry Thomas, David Wilson.
Hookers: David Paice, Rob Webber.
Locks: Graham Kitchener, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Ed Slater.
Back Row: Calum Clark, James Haskell, Matt Kvesic, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (C), Tom Wood, Billy Vunipola.
Scrum Halves: Danny Care, Lee Dickson, Richard Wigglesworth.
Fly Halves: Freddie Burns, Toby Flood.
Centres: Anthony Allen, Brad Barritt, Jonathan Joseph, Billy Twelvetrees.
Wingers: Chris Ashton, Dave Strettle, Christian Wade.
Full Backs: Mike Brown, Alex Goode, Ben Foden.