Lancaster plots sweeping changes to deliver new-look England team

England Interim Head Coach Stuart Lancaster during the press conference at Twickenham Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.
England Interim Head Coach Stuart Lancaster during the press conference at Twickenham Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.
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Stuart Lancaster gets his first real chance to stamp his authority on the England team today when he names his 32-man squad for the Six Nations here in Yorkshire.

The former Leeds Carnegie player and coach has already begun sweeping a new broom through the national squad by bringing them up to Leeds for a training camp later this month.

But as to who will be under his guidance on January 23-27 and into the Six Nations will be announced in Leeds later today.

England’s interim head coach can make up to 10 changes to the squad that so shamed itself and the country’s reputation at last year’s World Cup.

Replacements for the retirements the squad has suffered – Jonny Wilkinson, Steve Thompson, Lewis Moody and Simon Shaw among others – are also permitted.

And Lancaster is expected to use all of his allotted changes at his squad announcement at West Park, Bramhope, this lunchtime.

Harlequins pair Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw are both expected to be recalled while Northampton’s former Leeds flanker Calum Clark has been name-checked by Lancaster more than any other player and is a likely replacement for James Haskell, who sits out the tournament because he is playing in Japan.

Saracens’ Owen Farrell – who was this week compared to Wilkinson by former Lions flanker Richard Hill – is expected to receive his first senior England call-up.

Farrell, the 20-year-old fly-half or centre, could come in alongside a raft of his Saracens team-mates; Brad Barritt, former Rotherham winger David Strettle and Halifax-born Charlie Hodgson.

Hodgson, 31, has not started for England since June 2008, and the last two of his five substitute appearances since then came in the double-header with Wales before the World Cup.

Having joined champions Saracens after a decade with Sale Sharks, the Premiership’s all-time record points scorer has continued stretching his advantage this season and is a contender to start at fly-half with Farrell at inside centre for the Six Nations opener against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 4.

Farrell may be yet to complete a full season in the Premiership but he was pivotal in the club’s victory over Leicester in last season’s final.

The flattering comparison to Wilkinson was made by the World Cup-winning fly-half’s 2003 team-mate, Hill.

“You are dealing with a kid who is very, very determined,” said Hill. “He has a great work ethic, is constantly wanting to improve his analysis and understanding of the game.

“He has the ability to play 10 and 12. He will tailor his game and improve his game constantly.

“He is one of these characters who is almost obsessed, in the most positive way, with being a better player.

“Both (Farrell and Wilkinson) are self-driven with a strong desire to be the best, they are not prepared to accept other peoples’ perception of where they could get to.”

England may also give themselves the option of Barritt or Harlequins’ Jordan Turner-Hall at inside centre. But if selected Farrell would be England’s likely kicking option.

He kicked 17 points at Twickenham in May as Saracens beat Leicester to win their first league title.

“In relative terms he was cool as a cucumber going into that Premiership final (as a fly-half),” said Hill. “Charlie Hodgson arrived as the Premiership’s all-time points scorer but Owen has the confidence to say ‘I’ll have the ball’. He is kicking more regularly than Charlie does.”

Lancaster’s remit in the five games he has in charge before a permanent successor to Martin Johnson is named before the June tour to South Africa, is to build a new culture within the England team.

Part of that process is bringing the squad up to the impressive surroundings of West Park, Bramhope, for their training camp, instead of their more customary base in Portugal.

Lancaster has invited England rugby league captain Jamie Peacock, cycling guru Dave Brailsford and English cricket’s managing director Hugh Morris to address the team at their Yorkshire base.

And he has already shown he is eager to eradicate the lack of discipline that haunted Johnson by the way he dispensed of Danny Care following the Leeds-born scrum-half’s second alcohol-related discretion in a month. He may not be a household name but Lancaster showed in that one action that he was not afraid to lay down the law to the squad’s big hitters, even to an old Leeds ally like Care.

Care’s absence creates a headache at No 9 with Ben Youngs the only experienced hand, with back-up likely to come from either Joe Simpson of Wasps or Lee Dickson of Northampton.

The Gloucester duo of Charlie Sharples and Henry Trinder could also feature, either in the Six Nations squad or the 32-man Saxons squad, a team Lancaster was preparing not so long ago.

Who succeeds Moody as captain will also be a key decision for Lancaster today. Old hands have not been afraid to voice their thoughts, with Hill forwarding the surprise name of Steve Borthwick, who was axed as captain by Johnson two years ago, and Lawrence Dallaglio championing the claims of Tom Wood.

All these new faces are likely to mean the end of the road for the likes of Mark Cueto, Nick Easter and Mike Tindall, the latter whose 75-cap career deserves to be remembered for its longevity and service rather than the cloud it has finished under.

Whatever happens, whoever is named, today heralds the dawning of a new era.