Lancaster set to name same team again
England XV to start third successive game – but competition set to ramp up
England head coach Stuart Lancaster is all set to pick the same XV for the Ireland Six Nations game at Twickenham as started against France and then Scotland. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
It is a remarkable fact England have not named an unchanged team in three successive Six Nations games for 14 years. That long wait is set to end next week when they confirm their XV to face Ireland at Twickenham, yet another indicator of the growing stability on and off the field under Stuart Lancaster.
The contrast with the state of flux since Clive Woodward announced the same team for the opening three games of the 2000 season is marked. Five coaching regimes have been involved over that period and only one of the present squad – Dylan Hartley – has more than 50 caps. Lancaster, however, has not finished experimenting and has told his players his preferred 30 for the 2015 World Cup squad is not yet finalised.
While newcomers such as Jonny May and Jack Nowell, for example, have shown much promise on the wings, the competition is about to ramp up significantly.
Marland Yarde and Ben Foden are both due to return from injury next week, while Manu Tuilagi’s comeback for Leicester is pencilled in for the beginning of March.
Bath, not to mention England, are also looking forward to prop David Wilson’s scheduled Premiership return this week, while Joel Tomkins will shortly re-emerge for Saracens.
Add in the sidelined Tom Croft, Alex Corbisiero and Geoff Parling and the status quo appears unlikely to last.
Lancaster has complied “an evolving spreadsheet” of World Cup candidates and already suspects one or two very good players will miss out.
“You soon begin to realise decisions will get very tight,” he said. “You know you need three hookers and five props. Four would be a risk, and so it goes on. You’ll have five back-three players – two full-backs and three wingers – plus three centres and a fourth who can play on the wing, two outhalves and three scrumhalves. It will be competitive.”
For now, England remain on course to equal the all-time record of four successive unchanged teams, achieved on only three previous occasions, in 1960, 1991 and 1995.
It will have an even better chance of happening if they defeat an Irish side which Lancaster believes is “the most complete” in the championship. – Guardian Service