Lancaster ready to experiment

Date published: August 2 2013

With only 23 matches remaining before the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, England coach Stuart Lancaster has decided to twist.

With only 23 matches remaining before the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, England coach Stuart Lancaster has decided to twist.

Sentiment is clearly not a problem given that of the players named in Lancaster's first squad for the Six Nations clash against Scotland, seven have dropped out of either the Senior or Saxons squads.

Lancaster's loyalty is either short-lived for some – Tom Palmer, David Strettle, Phil Dowson – or excessive for the likes of Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton.

The incoming sextet of Dave Attwood, Matt Kvesic, Billy Vunipola, Kyle Eastmond, Marland Yarde and Christian Wade all possess talent in abundance, talent that Lancaster knows he can no longer ignore.

With Strettle gone and England likely to tinker with their back-three due to Alex Goode's injury, a straight shootout between Ben Foden and Mike Brown to play at full-back leaves a three-way battle for the wing spots.

Wade and Yarde capitalised on Ashton being rested in June by producing spectacular performances albeit against lesser opponents in South America, enough to see Wade called up by the British and Irish Lions.

Ashton is, or rather was, one of the game's more lethal finishers, but is running on reputation as opposed to blistering form. The way he plummeted out of the reckoning for the Lions tour is enough to clarify his demise.

Wade and Yarde on the other hand have been irrepressible. Yarde especially seems destined for the left-wing spot and bar a disastrous introduction to Test rugby will stay there through to 2015.

The fanfare over Eastmond means that England now have alternatives to Brad Barritt at inside centre, especially with Billy Twelvetrees in contention. A repeat of last year's blunt attack in the Six Nations, when England only managed five tries, seems highly unlikely.

Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw's tussle for the captaincy won't be concluded until closer to November, but their initial selection is far from guaranteed.

England are settled at number eight with Ben Morgan as a starter and Billy Vunipola acting as support, but Wood and Robshaw are left competing with Tom Croft and Matt Kvesic to fill the six and seven jerseys.

It is a pleasant dilemma, but one without any obvious conclusions, unlike the inclusion of Dave Attwood who offers the extra physicality at lock that was sorely missed against Wales.

Croft has been on the Lions tour and at his best is world-class, whilst Kvesic is both one of country's brightest talents and also an out-an-out openside flanker.

Dispensing with Robshaw would seem harsh, given his record as England captain of 10 wins and seven losses, and also mark the latest moment in a punishing run of disappointments for the Harlequins skipper. But there is no room for sentiment.

The 2013/2014 season allows Lancaster the chance to experiment before the process of bedding in a settled squad of 23-26 players the following season begins ahead of hosting the World Cup.

Supporters will have to settle on the notion that experimenting with selection leaves England more likely to taste defeat in this year's November Internationals, but if the ultimate aim is World Cup success in 2015 then Test defeats the season before are irrelevant.

A winning combination simply matters more in 2015 than it does now, but they do not appear instantly.

Lancaster, as likeable a head coach as he is, will no doubt have his nose bloodied if England fail to win in November, but the ultimate objective of being in contention to win the World Cup remains the same.

With the injection into the squad of Yarde, Eastmond and the rest, England are edging one step closer.

by Ben Coles