England head coach Stuart Lancaster insists the selection of his fly-halves for next month’s QBE Series is based on consistency rather than the “flash stuff”.
Danny Cipriani and Freddie Burns are the two highest-profile omissions from the 33-man squad named in preparation for the Twickenham appointments with New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia.
Two substitute appearances in the first and third Tests against the All Blacks in June saw Cipriani acquit himself well, but he has since lost ground at Sale.
Burns can feel more aggrieved having started the same internationals in Auckland and Hamilton, but Lancaster has chosen Owen Farrell, George Ford and Stephen Myler as his trio of 10s.
“To be the best it’s not about the flash stuff, it’s actually about skill execution and everything done at a very high level,” head coach Lancaster said.
“If we take Jonny Wilkinson as the benchmark, he didn’t get everything right all the time and it wasn’t always flash, but he was incredibly consistent in everything he did.
“Game management is one of the key things that we look for in our fly-halves.
“There’s the ability to execute an accurate kicking game so you relieve pressure.
“Goal kicking is a key area, as is defence and the ability to stop on the gain line.
“These are all parts of the jigsaw we look at, as well as the bits of magic that all players do.
“There’s a package really that we need to see, not just from Danny but from all the players.
“Some players have had standout games. It’s then backing that up, that standout game, with another.”
Farrell’s temperament and goalkicking identify him as England’s fly-half for the World Cup, although Lancaster admits he could “potentially” be moved to inside centre to accommodate Ford.
Of concern to the Red Rose management is that Farrell has started just one match this season and only made his return from a thigh strain as a late substitute for Saracens against Clermont last Saturday.
The 23-year-old’s performance against Munster in Friday’s night’s Champions Cup match will be scrutinised, but Lancaster expects him to be ready to face the All Blacks on November 8.
“I trust Owen. He’s diligent and does his preparation and work-ons. He’ll be ready,” Lancaster said.
Outside Farrell, the injury-enforced absence of Manu Tuilagi has complicated England’s persistent midfield conundrum with Lancaster hinting Kyle Eastmond and Brad Barritt may be paired together.
“Brad’s the best defensive centre in the Aviva Premiership, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“He can defend equally well in either position and probably even more effectively at 13. That’s a key defensive position.
“The way Kyle Eastmond has bounced back from the third Test in New Zealand has been exceptional.
“For me he’s been the best attacking inside centre this season. What he’s shown is his ability to take the ball to the line and make good decisions off the back of it.
“It’s made us sit up and take notice in terms of his potential to start against the All Blacks.”
Leicester, mindful of their double header against Toulon starting on December 7, have ruled Tuilagi out of all four Tests because of his groin injury.
England hope he may be able to play some role, possibly against Samoa or Australia, but see wings Marland Yarde and Semesa Rokoduguni as capable of supplying the firepower in his absence.
“When you lose Manu, what are you going to need? You are going to need punch in the backline. And Marland and Roko seem to be the guys who can give us that,” Lancaster said.