New series, same old bold Stuart Lancaster.
The former Leeds Carnegie player and coach embarks on the third leg of his journey as England head coach determined not to stray from his principles.
The bold team selections that characterised his interim tenure in the Six Nations and then the summer tour to South Africa have continued ahead of the QBE Autumn International Series which kicks off tomorrow against Fiji.
With the three best teams on the planet due at Twickenham on the following three Saturdays – Australia, South Africa and New Zealand – Lancaster could easily have opted for experience.
Instead, for the opener against the Pacific Islanders, he has made five changes to the side that drew with the Springboks in June, and has named the most inexperienced England side of the professional era.
All told, a side that welcomes Tom Youngs into the international fold has 215 caps between them, with fly-half Toby Flood the most experienced with nearly a quarter of those.
Playing Fiji might be a good time to give some of these youngsters a chance, with Wasps’ Joe Launchbury and Saracens’ Maku Vunipola set to debut from the bench.
But against the battle-hardened Springboks, Wallabies and All Blacks it might be a different story.
No matter, for Lancaster is undeterred. Injuries may have forced his hand in the respect of Youngs coming in for seasoned hooker Dylan Hartley, but history tells us Lancaster gives those who have impressed him a chance anyway, regardless of experience.
His tenure has been all about giving opportunity, whether that be to fresh-faced players, or, in the case of Danny Care, a second chance. The Leeds-born scrum-half has retained his place in the No 9 shirt with his indiscretions around the turn of the year now well and truly behind him.
For his part, Lancaster remains fearless. The underlying objective over the next four Saturdays is for England to get enough results to cement their status in the top four in the world, with the draw for the 2015 World Cup on home soil coming two days after their closing game against New Zealand on December 1.
If they can emerge from what could be a chastening three games relatively unscathed and still in the top four, then they will avoid the three southern hemisphere heavyweights in the group stages in 2015.
Lancaster knows full-well what is at stake but is determined to go and fight for better rather than hold on to what he has got by hoping the likes of Wales, France and Ireland do not climb above them.
He said: “This QBE International series will be a real marker of where we are as a squad.
“We are playing four back-to-back matches in four weeks against the top teams in the world and we are confident we can rise to the challenge.
“The foundations are in place, now it’s time for us to execute and deliver.
“Fiji is a good first Test for us and we can’t wait to play back at Twickenham.
“The atmosphere against Ireland back in March was superb and you can’t under-estimate what it means to the players to have 82,000 people and the nation behind them.
“Tom Youngs has made a great transition from centre to hooker in a short period and deserves his chance, as do Joe Launchbury and Mako Vunipola, whom we are pleased to be able to include.
“At 21, Joe is the first name on (Wasps director of rugby) Dai Young’s team sheet. He’s tough, athletic and has great rugby intelligence. People question Tom Youngs’s throwing ability, but he’s thrown very well in big games. Ask Geoff Parling, he believes in him.”
Youngs will take over the hooking duties from Dylan Hartley, who has been sidelined with a knee injury which threatens to keep him out of England’s entire autumn series.
Ugo Monye will make his England comeback on the left wing in place of the injured Ben Foden, while in-form Gloucester flyer Charlie Sharples deputises for the suspended Chris Ashton on the opposite flank.
Alex Goode continues at full-back while Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi link up in a hard-hitting centre partnership.
Flood and Care bring experience in the half-backs. Care tweeted: “Thank you to everyone for your messages. I can’t wait for Saturday and to get back out there at Twickenham. Absolutely buzzing for it.”
There are a total of five changes from the 14-14 draw with South Africa in the summer, with Chris Robshaw back to captain the side after missing that Test with a broken hand. Tom Johnson continues at blindside flanker after making his Test debut on the tour, while Tom Wood returns to the fold after 14 injury-plagued months with a place on the bench.
England: A Goode (Saracens); C Sharples (Gloucester), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), U Monye (Harlequins); T Flood (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), T Palmer (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), T Johnson (Exeter), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Waldrom (Leicester). Replacements: D Paice (London Irish), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), T Wood (Northampton), B Youngs (Leicester), O Farrell (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins).