Ben Foden hopes his presence in England’s back three for tomorrow’s QBE International against Argentina will inspire Chris Ashton in his fight for Test survival.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster suggested Ashton would have been dropped but for injuries to Christian Wade and Marland Yarde, declaring “we’ve put it on him this week, he has a point to prove”.
The Saracens wing made an encouraging start to the club season, but a glaring defensive error contributed to Australia’s only try in last Saturday’s 20-13 victory at Twickenham.
Foden replaces the stricken Yarde in the No 11 jersey and expects the decision to reunite him with Ashton will comfort his former Northampton team-mate.
“I’m looking forward to playing with Ashy again because it’s been a while,” said Foden, who plays for Saints at full-back.
“He’s not had the greatest time in an England shirt, so hopefully I’ll be the confidence he needs and I can reassure him.
“Together we always used to make a good team, we’ve looked good on the training field together and still have a laugh and a joke.
“We have an understanding of one another, what each other is about and what we’re trying to create for each other. Hopefully, we’ll see that at the weekend.
“I’m in a slightly different role but counter-attack is still the same so we’ll demand the ball from (full-back) Mike Brown and try to double up on each side.
“Hopefully, you’ll see Ashy and I bouncing off each other and causing their defence some problems.”
Outside the England camp the main focus post-Australia was Billy Twelvetrees’ difficulties at inside centre, but of more pressing concern internally was Ashton’s repeated defensive lapses.
Lancaster’s patience is clearly running out and the onus is now on the 26-year-old dual-code international to demonstrate that he should be selected against New Zealand the following week.
“There were one or two areas of Chris’s game that he was disappointed with. We had a long chat about it,” said Lancaster, who has revealed scrum-half Ben Youngs faces a fitness test on his bruised hip on Friday morning.
Leeds-born Danny Care is standing by.
“He’s under a bit of pressure and has a real point to prove coming into this game. I’m sure he’ll respond.
“Against Australia he was disappointed with his defensive alignment on the line break, which led to their try.
“That’s the key area we’ve spoken to him about. I know he’s working hard in that area.”
Wade’s hopes of making his Twickenham debut ended after straining his hamstring as he stretched for a ball in training on Tuesday, a fitness test yesterday morning confirming his unavailability.
Yarde was ruled out at the same stage when the jarred hip sustained against the Wallabies failed to improve sufficiently, although both players are expected to be available for New Zealand.
“I’m disappointed for Christian, but that’s the way it is sometimes. There’s no doubt he’ll get another chance, whether that’s next week we’ll have to see how he gets on,” added Lancaster.
Wing remains a troublesome position for England with Ashton unable to reproduce the dynamism of his early Test career and Wade and Yarde still international novices.
It is one of Lancaster’s most pressing issues as he plans for the 2015 World Cup, although time is on his side.
“We have still got some development to do in that area, but we’re two years out from the World Cup. We’re not there now. We trust the wings we have selected,” he said.
Lancaster has overhauled his front row against hard-scrummaging Argentina, bringing in Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley and David Wilson in place of Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole.
Vunipola has a knee injury and Youngs’ wife gave birth to their first child yesterday morning. Pocklington-born Rob Webber is on standby to replace Youngs on the bench if he cannot make it.
Cole’s demotion to the bench was more surprising, although Lancaster denied he has been “dropped”.
With Cole, Youngs and Alex Corbisiero among the replacements, Argentina will face an all-British and Irish Lions front row at some point in the second half.
“You don’t go through a World Cup with the same starting tighthead in every game,” said Lancaster.
“It makes sense to me at some point you have to give someone else an opportunity. Things could change against New Zealand.”
Stockton-on-Tees-born Geoff Parling is back on the bench after returning from the concussion that ruled him out of the win over Australia.
But there is again no place in the 23-man squad for Huddersfield-born Luther Burrell, who despite exemplary form for Northampton Saints, has not been able to overhaul Twelvetrees in the No 12 jersey.