Stuart Lancaster expects established players to raise their games against Argentina
For only second time since breaking into team, 41-times capped Dan Cole finds himself on bench
England’s Chris Ashton in action against Australia at Twickenham.
One of Stuart Lancaster’s key targets is for his England side to be sitting in second place in the world rankings by next September. It could happen ahead of schedule should they keep winning and South Africa stutter on their European tour, hence the extra pressure being brought to bear on established players to raise their games.
For only the second time since breaking into the team, the 41-times capped Cole finds himself on the bench, while Ashton would have been dropped had injury not cruelly struck down both his younger rivals Marland Yarde and Christian Wade. The result is an amended team sheet for tomorrow’s game with Argentina, featuring five Lions on the bench compared with two in the starting XV.
An entirely fresh frontrow of Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley and David Wilson have been picked, with Ben Foden back in an England shirt at Twickenham for the first time in 19 months. Geoff Parling and Alex Corbisiero also return on the bench but Ben Youngs will require a fitness test this morning on a bruised hip before his availability can be confirmed.
Lancaster reserved particular sympathy for the unfortunate Wade, who had been in line to start before tweaking a hamstring as he bent down to pick up a ball on the training ground. He should recover by early next week but this would have been a glorious opportunity to show what he can do.
Yarde’s sore hip was also judged not to have recovered sufficiently but Ashton’s reprieve will be temporary if he fails to reach the standards Lancaster now routinely expects.
Be so blunt
It is rare for the management to be so blunt in public but Ashton’s latest defensive rush of blood in the build-up to Australia’s try on Saturday did not go down well.
“We had a long chat about it ... he’s under a bit of pressure,” Lancaster said. “He has a real point to prove coming into this game, no doubt about it.
“To be an international it’s about the overall package. You have got to have an X-factor, whatever that is, and you’ve got to be good in all other areas such as high-ball receipt, kick-chase and defensive alignment. It’s the whole package for every player and that’s what we spoke to him about.”
Ashton has managed two tries since the 2011 World Cup and his outstanding support play has been increasingly intermittent at the highest level. This would be a perfect weekend to show he can still be a world-class poacher and the presence of Foden, his former Northampton team-mate, might just be a plus.
“He’s not had the greatest time in an England shirt so hopefully I’ll be the confidence he needs,” Foden said. “Together we always used to make a good team. We have an understanding of what each other is about and what we’re trying to create for each other.”
It is a shame that another exciting specialist winger such as Gloucester’s Jonny May could not have been drafted in but his training time with the senior side has been limited and Foden deserves a bit of luck, having suffered with ankle trouble for much of last season. For the first time he began to appreciate just how fleeting sporting success can be.
‘A young kid’
“When you’re a young kid and you get called up for England, you do think you are indestructible. You think your bones are made of diamond and they’re not going to break.”
Wilson has had to be even more patient, with Cole having started every Test since Lancaster took charge, barring this summer’s tour to Argentina when he was away with the Lions.
He and the heavily bearded Marler both went well against the Pumas in June but this will be only Wilson’s seventh start after 23 appearances off the bench. “It has been frustrating,” he said.
‘Do feel disappointed’
“There have been times when I thought I could have come on and done a job but I haven’t got on. You do feel disappointed with that. You don’t just want to be put on for five minutes.”
Lancaster also knows he cannot rely on one starting tighthead indefinitely but it could yet be that Cole and Corbisiero are reunited against the All Blacks at Twickenham on 16 November, regardless of Mako Vunipola’s fitness.
For players such as Wilson, Marler, Hartley, Ashton, Foden, Billy Twelvetrees and Lee Dickson, however, this is no time for defeatism. “For players it’s either the fear of failure or the opportunity to succeed,” Lancaster said. “I always try to fill them full of the latter.”