- Stuart Lancaster discusses Ford, Nowell, Slater, Watson and Flood with RFUtv
- “They’ve been picked on form and the next step for them is to get into the team”
Stuart Lancaster has named four new faces in England’s 35-man RBS 6 Nations squad and is adamant that each can contribute to Rugby World Cup 2015 – they would not have been picked otherwise.
Hit by injuries to eight frontline players – including five 2013 British and Irish Lions – the England Head Coach has included precocious uncapped quartet George Ford, 20, Jack Nowell, 20, Ed Slater, 25, and Anthony Watson, 19.
Developing for the showpiece tournament in autumn 2015 while winning in the short-term – starting with the RBS 6 Nations opener against France on February 1 – is a constant balancing act but in challenging the youngsters to show they should be picked in Paris, Lancaster believes he can do both.
“These are players who can contribute to 2015, yes, it’s exciting,” said Lancaster. “To bring these lads in now is a great statement about the quality of the rugby they’ve been playing in the Premiership, the academy programmes they’ve come through and the international age-grade programme, which shows how they are ready so young.
“They’ve been picked on form and the next step for them is to get into the team.”
Photo: Getty Images
England’s most capped current international Toby Flood has been left out in favour of his former Leicester Tigers protégé Ford, with the 60-cap fly half expected to confirm a move to France’s Top 14 in the coming weeks.
Intensified by the current age profile of his squad – 11 are aged 23 or under – Lancaster was keen for Flood to remain available by staying with an English club but he fully respects the 28-year-old’s “lifestyle decision” to move abroad.
While Flood will not add to his international caps in the immediate future, Lancaster outlined the special qualities that Ford is already displaying in his fledgling top-flight career.
“In my conversations with Toby I explained that [if he moved abroad next season] I would have to bring someone in for the Six Nations and the New Zealand tour to give them the experience because going into next season’s QBE Internationals without him here would be a big gap to fill.
“I think he understands that and respects that. He’s made his decision, we’ve made ours, but we still get on well and the door is never shut.
“George’s temperament is the stand-out quality he has; he doesn’t get fazed by playing on the big occasions. His goal kicking is improving, he’s worked hard on his defence, his game management is excellent and his ability to take on and beat defenders ranks as one of the highest in the Premiership. Put all that together and the time is right to bring him in.
“He’s had his dad [former England Defence Coach Mike Ford] analysing games with him since he was four years old so his understanding of the game is excellent. He stands up and talks to players and educates them about what they need to do. And these are players who are 29, 30, 31 years old – that’s what makes him special.”
Photo: Getty Images
Of the injuries to Manu Tuilagi (chest), Tom Croft (foot), Marland Yarde (hip), Alex Corbisiero (knee), Christian Wade (foot), Geoff Parling (shoulder), Ben Foden (foot) and David Wilson (calf), Lancaster is most upset by the loss of Wade and Yarde.
Two young, exciting but different former England Under 20 wings may be sidelined but two young, exciting, different England Under 20 wings have been called-in as replacements: Exeter Chiefs’ Nowell and Bath Rugby’s Watson.
The duo, prominent performers in last season’s maiden Junior World Championship victory, offer varying skillsets in the wide channels and Lancaster is excited about their potential.
“Anthony’s point of difference is his athletic ability and his temperament. His ability to beat defenders but also his defensive toughness, he’s not phased or not intimidated by defending and he’s going to need to demonstrate that to us to be considered for the first game in France.
“Jack is different to Anthony. He spends a lot of time off his wing and has a great ability to influence the game. He’s a bit like Mike Brown in his ability to beat the first defender and break tackles, he probably does not have the out-and-out pace of the others but he has other points of difference.”
Photo: Getty Images
After describing Slater as the type of “big, hard and uncompromising” forward needed in winning teams, Lancaster concluded with a word on injury returnee Brad Barritt.
Before being rested for the tour Argentina and then being ruled out of last November’s QBE Internationals with an ankle injury, Barritt had featured in all but one of Lancaster’s Test matches, only missing the second Test in South Africa in June 2012 with an eye injury.
A key figure tactically on the field and culturally off it, Lancaster is delighted to be able to call on his experience.
“He’s hugely experienced and important to the squad as a player and as a person,” Lancaster added. As a leader he is hugely respected. I’ve coached him for a long time now and we get on well, I’m just looking forward to having him back in the squad. We missed his presence during the QBEs and he’ll be back competing for the shirt in the first camp.”
The 35-man RBS 6 Nations squad assemble at Pennyhill Park on Monday, January 20, after rounds five and six of the Heineken and Amiln Challenge Cups to start preparations to face France in Paris on Saturday, February.