After a 2012 which England ended on a high, it was no longer a case of revolution, but evolution, in Lancaster’s choices as he bids for a successful World Cup campaign in 2015.
The majority of the squad was easy to predict with players such as Joe Launchbury, Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola and Freddie Burns rewarded for their successful contributions in the autumn with promotion from the Saxons squad to the EPS – they were only in the EPS as injury cover last year.
That trio replace Tom Palmer, Rob Webber and Anthony Allen, who have all been demoted to the second-string Saxons. Vunipola’s inclusion comes from an increase in squad size to compensate for the extra front-row cover now required on the bench.
However, Lancaster sprang two surprises in naming Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees and Northampton forward Calum Clark in his party. Both men are uncapped at international level and Twelvetrees has had an inconsistent season so far, while Clark, usually a back row, has been selected as a second-row option.
Twelvetrees has forged a successful partnership with Burns at domestic level but has remained erratic at best and his inclusion is somewhat surprising in the face of Lancaster’s pledge to pick on form.
However, the Red Rose head coach will have taken the view that Twelvetrees can offer something different to the other inside centre’s selected as he possesses better distribution skills, as well as more intelligent lines of running rather than the more one dimensional play of Brad Barritt and the man he replaces, Jordan Turner-Hall.
For Clark, the call up caps a remarkable turnaround from his 32-week suspension last year after breaking the elbow of Leicester’s Rob Hawkins in the LV Cup final.
His inclusion as a second row option is somewhat controversial given that he has played most of his rugby in the back row and Lancaster has discarded both Palmer and Mouritz Botha who are natural locks to the Saxons.
With the return of Leicester’s Tom Croft from injury, Lancaster must feel that his lineout presence counteracts their absence but Croft has only played one game since his return so must be handled carefully.
The two other changes in the EPS is return of wingers David Strettle and flanker James Haskell.
The former replaces Gloucester’s Charlie Sharples, who lost his place in the side in the autumn but Strettle’s inclusion over in-form Wasps duo Tom Varndell and Christian Wade is again at odds with the form book.
Strettle has hardly set the world on fire this season, while Varndell and Wade occupy the two top spots on the try scoring chart. Lancaster preferred to convert full-back Mike Brown to left wing against the All Blacks which allowed Alex Goode to continue his impressive form at No15.
With Northampton’s Ben Foden back in contention following his return from injury and subsequent success against New Zealand, it can be presumed Lancaster will continue to experiment with two natural No15s on the pitch.
Haskell has been in inspired form for Wasps so far this season, acting as a mentor for the young talents who have charged them up to fourth in the table and has rightly replaced Northampton’s Phil Dowson in the squad.
Lancaster also unveiled his Saxons squad, which acts as back up to the EPS in case of any injuries. In the autumn last year, he made the correct calls in regards to injury cover and with the talent listed in the Saxons, he looks to have covered himself again.
The aforementioned Wade joins exciting talents such as Vunipola, who will train with the England in the pre-Six Nations camp as cover for Croft, Ugo Monye, Joe Simpson and Elliot Daly. He has also found room to include rugby league converts, Kyle Eastmond and Joel Tomkins, who have impressed domestically but may have to wait until the summer tour to stake their claims in the first team.
The Saxons will face the respective second teams of Ireland and Scotland, where Lancaster’s second string will be looking to impress in case of any injuries to those in the EPS.
Lancaster was never going to make drastic changes to the England squad, especially after the famous victory over the All Blacks and the majority of his selections make a great deal of sense.
While he has again gone for more youthful prospects and ignored the form of Harlequins No8 Nick Easter, he has supplemented it with proven international experience in selecting Croft, Strettle and Haskell.
The likes of Vunipola and Wade will get their chance in the future but England’s team should be competitive this Spring and with a favourable draw of three home games, there is every chance they can secure the Six Nations title.
Forwards: C Clark (Northampton Saints), A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), T Croft (Leicester Tigers), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), J Haskell (London Wasps), T Johnson (Exeter Chiefs), J Launchbury (London Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton Saints), J Marler (Harlequins), B Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), G Parling (Leicester Tigers), C Robshaw (Harlequins), M Vunipola (Saracens), T Waldrom (Leicester Tigers), D Wilson (Bath Rugby), T Wood (Northampton Saints), T Youngs (Leicester Tigers).
Backs: C Ashton (Saracens), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins), F Burns (Gloucester Rugby), D Care (Harlequins), L Dickson (Northampton Saints), O Farrell (Saracens), T Flood (Leicester Tigers), B Foden (Northampton Saints), A Goode (Saracens), J Joseph (London Irish), D Strettle (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers).
Forwards: M Botha (Saracens), N Catt (Bath Rugby), L Deacon (Leicester Tigers), P Doran Jones (Northampton Saints), P Dowson (Northampton Saints), W Fraser (Saracens), J Gray (Harlequins), G Kitchener (Leicester Tigers), S Knight (Gloucester Rugby), M Kvesic (Worcester Warriors), M Mullan (Worcester Warriors), D Paice (London Irish), T Palmer (London Wasps), G Robson (Harlequins), E Slater (Leicester Tigers), H Thomas (Sale Sharks), B Vunipola (London Wasps).
Backs: N Abendanon (Bath Rugby), A Allen (Leicester Tigers), T Biggs (Bath Rugby), E Daly (London Wasps), K Eastmond (Bath Rugby), G Ford (Leicester Tigers), G Lowe (Harlequins), J May (Gloucester Rugby), U Monye (Harlequins), J Simpson (London Wasps), C Sharples (Gloucester Rugby), J Tomkins (Saracens), J Turner-Hall (Harlequins), C Wade (London Wasps), R Wigglesworth (Saracens).
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