For several England players last Tuesday morning, there was only the sound of camera vans speeding away from training grounds.
For several England players last Tuesday morning, there was only the sound of camera vans speeding away from training grounds to indicate where it had all gone wrong.
The damage of a confusing Six Nations had left it's biggest mark on England's players as the likes of Danny Care, Mike Brown, Brad Barritt and others realised that, for now, their chances of touring Australia with the Lions were over.
Of the batch left behind, the most sympathy was directed the way of Chris Robshaw. England's captain was penned in to tour, and possibly captain the Lions, after the win over the All Blacks last November.
It seemed that his indecision two weeks before against Australia on top of his frequently-discussed version of being openside flanker proved to be his undoing. The faces and words of Graham Rowntree and Warren Gatland have spoken volumes about how close he was to travelling. He may still end up in Australia.
England will benefit from the experience their ten Lions will gain, of which an impressive six come from Leicester Tigers – including Ben and Tom Youngs, who become the first brothers to tour with the Lions since the Underwoods and Hastings in 1993.
The sense of rejection however felt by those left behind will strengthen England as a group.
Touring Argentina is no picnic – since professionalism began each side has won two tests when England have travelled to South America, plus they toiled to a 13-9 victory over the Pumas in the World Cup.
At the same time though, this tour is winnable. By facing a South American XV before the two Tests, England have a chance to blood their youngsters.
Christian Wade has been so impressive this season that many wanted to see him travel to Australia. He has scored tries in all weather, but his scores against Sale last weekend indicated that on hard ground he can be unplayable. Jonny May is another who England are yet to unleash. Chris Ashton will be looking for tries. Tom Varndell deserves a chance.
Others include players who are yet to really shine for England due to selection and form – including the Gloucester trio of Freddie Burns, Billy Twelvetrees and also Ben Morgan – whilst Joel Tomkins has shown enough promise to be considered for a Test spot in midfield.
Upfront are where England will be tested and with both Dylan Hartley and Tom Youngs with the Lions, there is a gap at number two – likely to be filled by either Rob Webber of Bath or London Irish's David Paice.
Alex Corbisiero's darkest days appear to be behind him and the England loosehead's return will be welcomed with open arms. David Wilson has a chance to actually start, rather than add to his number of replacement appearances off the bench.
Joe Launchbury can continue to grow with Courtney Lawes answering critics alongside him. Tom Wood, once destined to lead England before injury struck, should do so in Robshaw's absence if the regular captain is called to Australia as an injury replacement.
That is all before considering the likes of Henry Thomas, Marland Yarde, Elliot Daly, Matt Kvesic and Billy Vunipola – young talent that could all play a part in the World Cup two years from now.
A tour of South America is no easy alternative to the Lions – Argentina have become a force that command respect. With holes in their Test side to be filled however, England can be afforded a little experimentation.
Lawrence Dallaglio spoke last week of how playing and winning a Lions tour can transform players.
With several stars scorned by rejection, England instead can battle through a brutal series on Argentinian soil and emerge better for it – both as players and a squad.
Likely England XV to play Argentina: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jonny May, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Christian Wade, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Danny Care, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
by Ben Coles