Stuart Lancaster stayed true to his principles yesterday when he named a brave squad for England’s daunting Six Nations opener against Scotland tomorrow.
England’s interim head coach proclaimed he has “a team for the now and a team for the future” after handing debuts to three players in his starting XV with another five uncapped players on the bench.
The Saracens duo of Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell will start in the centres while Northampton’s Phil Dowson comes in at No 8 for the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield.
Halifax-born fly-half Charlie Hodgson is the most experienced player in the England line-up with 36 caps, but he will be making his first Test start in four years.
Lancaster’s starting line-up boasts just 236 Test caps – including Lions appearances – compared to Scotland’s 501.
And to sum up the imbalance between the two sides, the Scottish pack alone has more international experience than the entire England team, with seven of Lancaster’s starting XV going into the game on 10 caps or fewer.
Yet Lancaster – whose captain Chris Robshaw has only one cap to his name – issued a defiant message yesterday that his team is ready and able to take on Scotland now and the rest of the world over the next four years.
“If you remember right at the outset I talked about two things – building a team that has longevity, and giving opportunities to new players,” he said.
“And we also talked about developing a style of play that allows us to express ourselves in terms of talent from both an attacking and a defensive point of view, and I like to think we have been true to our word in this selection.
“It’s about a team for now and a team for the future, we’re trying to achieve both.
“We have got 40 games between now and the next World Cup, and we need to put experience into that group of players so that they have got an opportunity to grow and develop on the international stage, but equally we go to Murrayfield for the first time to experience that and that is part of the journey.
“Equally, we also know that the result is paramount at the weekend, so we need to keep an eye on that.”
Saracens duo Barritt and Farrell will be the centre partnership for England but Lancaster does not necessarily believe England’s attacking approach will mirror that of the Premiership champions.
Lancaster, who has named five players from Sarries in his starting XV, said: “Saracens have got a unique style that suits their players and their skills, we will play Owen and Barritt in a slightly different way.
“We’ve got our own philosophy – not mirrored on any one in particular but we have tried to take the strengths of each of our clubs.
“All coaches have their styles and Saracens’ is very effective.
“We have our own philosophy that we will take onto the international stage and we will also make sure that we will have a Plan B. But we will have a unique style of play.
“International rugby is about being open-minded and being able to play in different styles, with different philosophies.
“And players of all clubs have bought into that.
“With Owen and Brad, I know Brad very well from coaching him with the Saxons and Owen has shown he has got the temperament. They both get their chance to show what they can do on the big stage.”
Farrell, 20, said: “Stuart has put a system in place where players can go out and express themselves and I am really looking forward to being part of that. As I walk out (at Murrayfield) I will have a huge smile on my face. I will take the occasion in – and then it’s game time.”
Dowson has been selected to play his first Test at the age of 30, and Lancaster said: “It was a nice moment for me personally (telling him he would start).
“He’s hugely experienced as a leader, a very good footballer, he’s played a lot of big games and he’s desperate to play for England – that was a big factor for me.
“He has worked and worked and worked, tried and tried and tried.
“Phil has been one of the form players in the Premiership for a long time and he deserves his opportunity to get the start.”
York-born Rob Webber is one of five uncapped players on the bench.
The 25-year-old Wasps hooker is set to make his England debut from the bench as a second-half replacement for starting No 2 Dylan Hartley.
Former Leeds lock Tom Palmer partners another relatively untested Saracens player in Mouritz Botha in the second row.
And ex-Rotherham winger David Strettle wins his eighth cap but makes his first start since June 2008. Along with Webber, Leicester lock Geoff Parling, Scarlets No 8 Ben Morgan, Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson and Harlequins centre Jordan Turner-Hall are all primed to make their debuts from the bench.
Ben Youngs, Chris Ashton and Ben Foden are the only survivors from the World Cup in Lancaster’s backline.
There are five survivors in the pack as the interim head coach begins building towards the next World Cup in 2015.