- Stuart Lancaster discusses his evolving EPS exclusively with RFUtv
- Of six new faces, four are aged 22 or under
Stuart Lancaster has insisted that international playing groups should always be in a state of evolution after naming six new faces in his latest 33-man Senior Elite Player Squad.
The England Head Coach has brought in Dave Attwood, Kyle Eastmond, Matt Kvesic, Billy Vunipola, Christian Wade and Marland Yarde – four aged 22 or under – continuing his policy of giving youth a chance.
As expected, Lancaster has selected the 11 players from his last EPS who were part of the first winning Lions tour in 16 years this summer in Australia, as well as picking the four frontline stars who were given the summer off – Chris Ashton, Danny Care, Toby Flood and Chris Robshaw – and retaining Dylan Hartley despite his disciplinary issues at the end of the season.
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In addition to juggling the numbers – opting for two hookers and three wings to allow for a trio of full backs, fly halves and scrum halves – Lancaster outlined the importance of marrying loyalty to players who have performed for England throughout his 18-month tenure with opportunities for young players who have lit up the Aviva Premiership.
“I think we’ve achieved both – we’ve got the players in there who have done well for England but by the same token we always need to evolve our squad,” said the former RFU Head of Elite Player Development.
“We always need to keep moving forwards and we always need to make changes when they’re necessary. As I said, this is a starting point, this is a pre-season squad, things do change and they have every time that I’ve been involved.”
In selecting 65 players, Lancaster described the Senior and Saxons squads as one extended group, with promotions expected when form and fitness are assessed after eight rounds of the domestic season.
The England management are wholly committed to player development, with the tight selection calls – such as the decision to swap Bath centres Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph – eventually determined by Lancaster’s desire to personally assess the credentials of players he has not spent much time with.
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Speaking about a decision which encapsulates his approach to selection, Lancaster said: “JJ is a bit unlucky to drop down but it is more a reflection of what Kyle brought to our game from an attacking point of view.
“Also, in order to work with the players you need to have them in your EPS squad. JJ has been in there for a while, we’ve had a good chance to look at him and work with him and Kyle has had limited time in comparison. So we want to have that flexibility to work with Kyle and see if he has got enough potential to be a starting international for England.”
The other additions were more straightforward. On the wings, British and Irish Lion Wade’s meteoric rise last year – becoming the top try scorer in the Aviva Premiership and the first player in history to scoop the players’ player and young players award in the same year at RPA awards – made him an obvious pick while 21-year-old Yarde demonstrated his “point of difference in terms of pace and power” with two tries on his Test debut in Salta.
Attwood, Kvesic and Vunipola have also been retained from the South America touring party, with Lancaster reflecting that the trio did all he asked of them while away representing their country – both on and off the pitch.
Hooker Hartley has been a consistent feature in England’s Senior EPS since his Test debut in 2008 but on this occasion his inclusion caused some consternation after the 27-year-old’s red card and subsequent 11-week ban after the Aviva Premiership Final for abusing referee Wayne Barnes.
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Despite this being the fourth ban of his career, Lancaster said that after a long one-on-one meeting he has been reassured that 47-cap Hartley, who captained England for the 14-14 draw with South Africa in Port Elizabeth in 2012, knows where the disciplinary line is.
“I had a long, hard think about it,” added Lancaster. “I wanted to understand from him exactly what happened that day and how it unfolded, and what his view on it now was. I wanted to be reassured that he understands where the line is and what’s right and what’s wrong in terms of discipline and he assured me that he does understand that.
“He is obviously disappointed with what happened for him and particularly for the team on the day, with the subsequent actions against him. He accepts that, he knows he did wrong and he’s going to have to work hard now to get back into that starting shirt. But I’ve seen enough of Dylan to reassure me that he deserves this next chance.”
Both squads will meet up at Loughborough later this month for a three-day training camp and the Senior squad reconvenes a fortnight before facing Australia on November 2.
England Senior EPS (33)
David Attwood (Bath Rugby)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
Alex Corbisiero (Northampton Saints)
Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers)
Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)
Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
Joe Marler (Harlequins)
Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby)
Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers)
Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
David Wilson (Bath Rugby)
Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)
Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Chris Ashton (Saracens)
Brad Barritt (Saracens)
Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Freddie Burns (Gloucester Rugby)
Danny Care (Harlequins)
Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints)
Owen Farrell (Saracens)
Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers)
Ben Foden (Northampton Saints)
Alex Goode (Saracens)
Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)
Manusamoa Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)
Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby)
Christian Wade (London Wasps)
Marland Yarde (London Irish)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)