Stuart Lancaster continued revolutionising the England rugby team yesterday with the boldest proclamation yet of his intentions.
England’s interim head coach named a 32-man squad for the Six Nations which involves 13 changes and the inclusion of nine uncapped players.
Out are the likes of Delon Armitage, Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall on top of the retiring trio of Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson.
In come raw but hungry young talents such as Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt, Jordan Turner-Hall, Charlie Sharples and Calum Clark.
There are also opportunities for previous discards such as Halifax-born Charlie Hodgson and former Rotherham winger David Strettle to show they have the qualities to last in international rugby.
It is a risk-reward strategy from Lancaster who has the five games of the Six Nations championship to propel England towards a brighter future.
His ultimate aim is to nurture a more professional culture within the England set-up but it will be results on which he is judged.
And he is placing his faith in a largely inexperienced squad to help shape his legacy and England’s future.
“I always felt that January 2012 was going to be a defining moment about where we’re going in the future,” said Lancaster at West Park Leeds yesterday, where his new squad will assemble for their first training camp on January 23.
“We’ve picked a side that’s exciting, talented, that’s going to be committed to getting us back where we want to be.
“When we talk at the outset about building teams, we talk about great players, great culture and we have got to coach well.
“We recognise that it is our responsibility to do that.
“There’s obviously some guys that have retired and there’s some that haven’t been selected.
“The door’s not shut on them, but we want to use this Six Nations as an opportunity to develop the next players in those positions.
“We want to develop a leadership group that is strong. We want to achieve, to be the best and beat the best.
“The guys coming in have been on the cusp and they deserve their chance. The new lads have proven themselves in big, big games for their clubs.
“I spoke to the players on the phone, they’re excited and we’re excited.
“This is a squad that has potential now and for the future.”
Lancaster’s selection criteria have been based primarily on form, with a few exceptions for people who have ‘credit in the England bank’, like Bath hooker Lee Mears.
The right mix of experience and youth is needed for international rugby, particularly for a tournament as demanding as the Six Nations.
Certainly Murrayfield on February 4, when England open their campaign against Scotland, will be an unforgiving battleground for any young players who are not ready mentally and physically.
Lancaster’s new squad has an average age of 25.
“It’s time that we give lads that have been on the cusp an opportunity,” said Lancaster.
“You look at Owen Farrell, Charlie Sharples, Chris Robshaw, these guys have been waiting for their chance and we trust them.
“Building a team for the future has been part of our policy.”
Lancaster’s squad may have a weakness with no out-and-out No 7 in the class of Moody, or going back a few years, Neil Back.
Nor is there a straightforward oustide centre in the mould of Tindall. But Lancaster wants his players to play with depth and versatility, which hints at a very flexible midfield partnership of Barritt and Farrell.
Likely to play in the pivotal fly-half position, in the absence of the injured Toby Flood, is their Saracens team-mate Hodgson.
“I think Charlie has a fantastic opportunity ahead of him,” said Lancaster of a player who has not started an England game for three-and-a-half years.
“We talk about leadership, and to have Charlie in the squad was crucial. His form merits it. The change to Saracens has freshened him up and I had no qualms about picking him.
“He’s improved defensively. He always has been one of the best ball-playing fly-halves we have in the country.”
Leeds Carnegie academy product Rob Webber, who worked under Lancaster at Headingley, joins the ranks of the uncapped forwards after his stellar form for Wasps.
Born in York, the 25-year-old hooker played only twice for Leeds in Europe’s Challenge Cup before heading south.
Another Carnegie graduate is Clark, who has fitted in seamlessly in Northampton’s back row.
“Calum Clark is an exciting young talent,” said forwards coach Graham Rowntree, whose input alongside Lancaster yesterday was significant.
“Now is the time to bring him in and work with him. Calum is energetic, aggressive, and he’s in there with a number of good back rowers.”
Tom Palmer retains his place as he signed for Stade Francais before the protocol to only select those playing in England was implemented. Four players will move up from the Saxons as injury cover: George Parling for Louis Deacon, Alex Goode for Flood, Dave Attwood for Courtney Lawes and Henry Trinder for Manu Tuilagi.
Excluded Tindall facing the end
STUART Lancaster’s new-look England squad has effectively signalled the end to Mike Tindall’s international career.
The Otley-born Gloucester centre has not been picked in either of Lancaster’s 32-man squads for the Six Nations.
Tindall, 33, won 75 caps in a career highlighted by England’s World Cup win in 2003.
He also captained England in all four of their victories in last year’s Six Nations.
Lancaster said: “It’s not my decision to retire players from international rugby, my decision is to select the team.
“For me, it’s about Brad Barritt, Jordan Turner-Hall and Henry Trinder coming in.”