England future starts against Fiji
LONDON (AFP) –
England coach Stuart Lancaster hopes his decision to field his most inexperienced Test team yet against Fiji at Twickenham will reap a reward come the 2015 World Cup.
This weekend’s match is the start of four weeks of international action which will see England, the World Cup hosts in three years’ time, also facing Australia, South Africa and world champions New Zealand at Twickenham.
England’s team to face Fiji includes debutant hooker Tom Youngs, who has only made seven Premiership starts in the No 2 shirt having switched from being a centre, and 11 players with 13 caps or fewer.
But Lancaster believes the relatively large influx of novice talent will enable England to break the cycle of always having to rebuild a team after the end of every World Cup.
“When I took over in December we needed to bring through a new generation of players because we had a significant number of the World Cup squad who were post-30,” Lancaster said.
“Someone said the All Blacks don’t go through that period of renewal, it is a gradual drip-feed of new players — and that is where we should be from now on.
“I don’t see England in the next eight to 12 years going through the sort of change we have had to go through.
“The Fiji game is the start of a huge four-week journey for us that will test us in every way.
“The inexperience is not a concern or a risk because we delivered good performances in the Six Nations and that experience will grow with every game.” In the backs, Ugo Monye returns on the left wing in place of the injured Ben Foden while Charlie Sharples deputises for the suspended Chris Ashton on the right wing.
There are five changes in all from the England side that drew 14-14 last time out against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in June, with flanker Chris Robshaw back to captain the side after missing that match with a broken hand.
The uncapped pair of Saracens prop Mako Vunipola and Wasps lock Joe Launchbury are in line to make their Test debuts off the bench.
Fly-half Toby Flood is the most experienced player in the England side with 50 caps.
Over the next few weeks England will look to at least retain their fourth place in the International Rugby Board world rankings — the minimum they need to ensure a top seeding at next month’s World Cup draw which will ensure they avoid the All Blacks in the pool phase.
But while Fiji, who will be captained by Scarlets prop Deacon Manu and have the talented Akupusi Qera of Gloucester at No 8, ought to be the least challenging of England’s upcoming opponents, the Pacific Islanders would love nothing more than to record their first win over the Red Rose.
Fiji famously knocked Wales out of the 2007 World Cup with a breathtaking display and in the English Premiership midfield duo of Vereniki Goneva and Sireli Naqelevuki, who play for Leicester and Exeter respectively, they have two excellent open-field runners.
“People quite rightly expect us to go out and win every game,” said Lancaster. “The All Blacks have an expectation to win every time and they continue to do so.
“We are not there yet but it will be a good test in the next four weeks to see if we are.”
He added: “It would be great to get off to a good start but you only have to look at Fiji’s two centres, they are two of the most dangerous players we have in the Premiership at the moment.
“Put those together in the centre, we will have our hands full if we play loosely and give them the freedom of Twickenham.”