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Lancaster’s latest squad shows that England are still building

Much of the talk of Stuart Lancaster’s squad will focus on the inclusion of Callum Clark, Billy Twelvetrees and to an extent David Strettle, it makes sense, they are the most interesting selections.

However I would like to have a look at what the squad as a whole looks like and what it says about England’s development and Lancaster’s view of his squad.

In dropping Tom Palmer, Mouritz Botha and Phil Dowson to the Saxons, Lancaster has been true to his policy of removing ‘older’ players who are not going to be able to add value come RWC 2015.

By replacing Palmer and Botha with just one second row, Joe Launchbury, is a real show of faith from the Head Coach in Launchbury, Parling and Lawes. He is saying to them and to England supporters, ‘these three men are England’s second rows and will be for a long time’.

It is a refreshing selection; consistency of selection is key to success in the international arena so by backing these three he is guaranteeing consistency. Despite Lancaster highlighting Callum Clark’s ability to fill in at lock, it seems clear that he is there as a back row, to develop behind Robshaw, and that any appearances in the second row would be just that, filling in.

Where there is less consistency is in that crucial 10/12 channel, again though you have to feel that Lancaster has made the right call here. Despite the heroics against the All Blacks it is still clear that England’s balance in that area is not yet there, with the best players for the positions, let alone combinations, still undecided.

By bringing in Burns and Twelvetrees for Allen and Tuner-Hall he has now got players who offer vastly different options to the current first choices, rather than guys who were always perceived as the back up. It makes sense, these two will now challenge the status quo, exactly what the backline needs.

The retention of Thomas Waldrom is interesting too. I might be wrong but over the Autumn I got the impression that the England management felt he probably was not the answer.

That Waldrom remains in the squad suggests that they are still not entirely certain with Ben Morgan at number 8 either. That Billy Vunipola has been brought into the training squad, for Tom Croft while he recovers from injury, would add some weight to that too.

While number 8 may be uncertain, it seems clear then that the tight five is an area that Stuart Lancaster is very happy with, it looks settled. Certainly the second row, hooker and tighthead are completely settled, while the looshead still has a bit of a scrap for it but Alex Corbisiero heads the list.

While Lancaster still seems to be striving for balance in his back row, at scrum half things appear very different with Care and Youngs looking to develop a Dawson/Bracken type of rivalry, each pushing the other to higher levels of performance.

The midfield still looks to be a bit of a quandary for Lancaster, but I think that by introducing different types of players to the squad there he is opening up the possibility for Mike Catt to start experimenting a little in terms of style of attack, which can only be a good thing.

The back three meanwhile still all hangs on that left wing position. Clearly Ashton is the undisputed choice on the right, while Alex Goode is the man in possession at 15, though any of the three options there could step in and do an excellent job.

My instinct is that he wants to develop Ben Foden into a genuine Test level left wing. Of all the options, he is probably the one who could become a top performer there, and by still only selecting two wingers in the squad it does seem that Lancaster wants to continue the experiment, though bringing in Strettle for Sharples does at least give him a more experienced option there.

Looking ahead to the first Six Nations match, vs Scotland on the 2nd February, this would be the side I would pick form todays squad:

1.Corbisiero, 2. Hartley, 3. Cole, 4. Launchbury, 5. Parling, 6. Wood, 7. Robshaw (captain), 8. Morgan; 9. Care, 10. Burns, 11. Foden, 12. Barritt, 13. Tuilagi, 14. Ashton, 15. Goode.

What is interesting is that the only positions that I really had to think hard about were fly half and inside centre, which actually says a lot for how settled this England side is.

Angus Savage

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