Luther Burrell is set to make his England debut in Paris on Saturday night as Stuart Lancaster prepares to throw three uncapped players into the cauldron of Six Nations rugby.
Huddersfield-born centre Burrell could join fellow rookies Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson in a new-look backline which has been forced upon the head coach by injuries.
Manu Tuilagi is out with a chest injury meaning Burrell faces a straight shoot-out for the No 13 jersey with Brad Barritt.
Former Leeds Carnegie back Burrell, 26, gets his chance after a strong 18 months with Northampton Saints.
Jonny May has only one Test appearance under his belt and is challenging Exeter’s Nowell and Bath’s Watson for a place on the wing.
Lancaster insists that if he believes they are ready for one of the Six Nations’ biggest fixtures, then he will have no hesitation in throwing them into battle.
“I’ve never shied away from giving people without much experience opportunities. At some point you have to do it,” said Lancaster.
“This time two years ago I selected seven players with no caps for Scotland away.
“There is a balance to strike, but I’ve always been reasonably confident to pick inexperienced players if I feel they’re ready.
“For me it’s exciting to give young players opportunities, particularly if they’ve been performing well and showing it consistently at their clubs.
“At some point you have to make the step. There will be some people with less experience in the France game.”
Team selection will be finalised after training today and announced on Thursday morning, before England depart for Paris hours later.
Lancaster said: “You can watch as many games as you like, but it’s only when you coach the players and talk to them one on one that you get a feel for whether they have the temperament to play in a game like this.
“I trust my instincts in that regard. Last week was great to have that time with the players. We’ll finalise it today.”
Burrell told the Yorkshire Post earlier this month how grateful he was for the opportunity to step up to international rugby and seize his chance.
Billy Twelvetrees looks certain to start at inside centre with the tussle between Burrell and Barritt one of the main talking points ahead of England’s mouthwatering opening assignment at the Stade de France.
Barritt, whose defensive steel and organisation is valued by England, recently returned from a foot problem, but uncapped Burrell is likely to start at outside centre having been spoken of in glowing terms by Lancaster in recent weeks.
Burrell has played most of his rugby at 12, but Twelvetrees believes the two can operate in tandem.
“My role won’t change much at all if Luther is there,” said Twelvetrees.
“Generally you’re only together in the first phase and after that you’re probably split or all over the place. The number on your back doesn’t sometimes represent the position you’re in.”
Twelvetrees himself is aiming to turn England’s midfield into the creative hub of the team as he looks to nail down his own position in the centre.
An underwhelming autumn saw the selection of Joel Tomkins at 13 in an England midfield which has been unsettled since the World Cup-winning axis of Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall was last together in 2004.
But Gloucester playmaker Twelvetrees is eager to make the latest reincarnation in the centres succeed.
“You get scrutinised in whatever position you play,” he said.
“Personally I have massive ambition to play in the centre for England and do as well as I can, creating things so that we can score tries.
“It’s up to us at 10-12-13 to create opportunities, to punch holes and to give boys space. We definitely have the personnel to do that.
“Week-in, week-out in the Premiership the boys are scoring tries and creating opportunities, it’s just about getting the balance right and doing it in an England shirt.”
Twelvetrees’s position at inside centre has been secured despite an autumn of fluctuating fortunes.
A poor match against Australia which brought his defence under the spotlight was met with a swift vote of confidence from Lancaster.
Retained against Argentina and New Zealand, the 25-year-old marked his seventh and eighth caps by producing in patches the ball-playing skills that England’s management rate so highly.
The former Leicester back said: “It was massive to have Stuart’s trust.
“You want the coach to trust you and you want the players’ trust around you.
“That was particularly important for that second game after having not played so well in the first one.
“I was fully aware of that and wanted to crack on and put it to bed. I thought I did that. In the last two games I was pleased with what happened.
“The loss to New Zealand was obviously disappointing, but I felt we really fronted up and took it to them. It was a huge learning curve.”
Uncapped Scarlets lock Jake Ball has been officially called up by Wales.
Ball, 22, has been training with the squad ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Italy in Cardiff.
Defending Six Nations champions Wales, meanwhile, have lost the services of Ospreys lock Ian Evans for the entire tournament.
Evans is serving a 12-week ban that does not expire until April after he was sent off for stamping during the Ospreys’ Heineken Cup defeat against Leinster in Dublin earlier this month.