- Rowntree discusses his forwards for South Africa with RFUtv
- "I can't think of anywhere better in the world to test them" – says Forwards Coach
Graham Rowntree is frustrated by a series of back row absentees in England’s squad for South Africa but says the situation opens the door for deserving young players to show what they do in an unforgiving environment.
Head Coach Stuart Lancaster named his 42-man playing group for the five-match tour without Tom Croft, who started all five matches at No.6 in the 2012 RBS 6 Nations, and Tom Wood, who was ever present at blindside during the 2011 tournament.
With Calum Clark and Courtney Lawes also missing, the likes of uncapped pair Tom Johnson and Carl Fearns were called-up, alongside returning 42-cap man James Haskell after his southern hemisphere sabbatical.
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Talking exclusively to RFUtv about his options at blindside flanker, the England Forwards Coach said: “It’s frustrating to miss those players but that’s behind us now. I’m delighted we are taking Tom Johnson, Carl Fearns and people like Dows [Phil Dowson], who was dependable throughout the Six Nations.
“And I’m looking forward to working with James again. He brings a real energy to the environment, he’s playing well in the Super 15 and I’ve been impressed by him. I’m looking forward to having an experienced Test forward around, given all the injuries we’ve got.”
While winning Test matches is all-important in international rugby, much has been made by Lancaster of the developmental nature of this tour, especially with non-Test midweek matches in Kimberley (June 13) and Potchefstroom (June 19).
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There are 13 uncapped players in the squad and none more startling than Leicester Tigers hooker Tom Youngs, who is yet to start an Aviva Premiership match at No.2. But for Rowntree the former centre can make a real impact as the party’s fourth hooker behind Dylan Hartley, Lee Mears and Joe Gray.
Also discussing the balance between imparting big-game experience into players and exposing them too early, the 57-Test prop said of Youngs: “He’s very dynamic – he was a cannonball of a centre a few years ago who was exceptional over the ball post tackle, so he’s continued that into his hooker role.
“I’ve seen improvement in the game time he’s had this season, he’s got a good attitude – like his brother [Ben Youngs] – and we’re bringing him on tour as our fourth hooker where he can come off the bench in our midweek games.
“We want guys to be exposed to proper challenges early in their career and I can’t think of anywhere better to test themselves than against one of the most physical rugby nations on earth.
“I think we showed that in the Six Nations, we played a few youngsters and they came through. And this is another opportunity for us to look at them in tough circumstances.”
And therein lies Rowntree’s enthusiasm for the June trip – not returning to the scene of his role as a principal member of the triumphant, if not victorious, British and Irish Lions tour in 2009, but coaching a group of hungry players eager to learn and prove their worth in the southern hemisphere.
England fixtures in South Africa
Saturday, June 9: South Africa v England (1st Test)
Mr Price King’s Park, Durban (kick off 17h00 local, 16h00 BST)
Wednesday, June 13: SA Barbarians South v England
GWK Park, Kimberley (kick off 14h30 local, 13h30 BST)
Saturday, June 16: South Africa v England (2nd Test)
Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg (kick off 17h00 local, 16h00 BST)
Tuesday, June 19: SA Barbarians North v England
Profert Olen Park, Potchefstroom (kick off 19h10 local, 18h10 BST)
Saturday, June 23: South Africa v England (3rd Test)
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth (kick off 17h00 local, 16h00 BST)