World Cup preparations start now, says Stuart Lancaster
Coach insists match against Australia begins ‘defining year’
England coach Stuart Lancaster has said his side will launch a “defining year” when they face Australia in their opening November international at Twickenham on Saturday.
For an Australia side who’ve won just three of their 10 Tests so far in 2013, and only two out of seven under new coach Ewen McKenzie, the mission statement that matters right now is the familiar one of ‘stuffing the Poms’.
A decade on from England’s World Cup final win over Australia in Sydney, Saturday’s fixture has been given added significance by the fact the old rivals are in the same pool for the next edition of the global showpiece in England in two years’ time.
For England, it marks the start of a testing November campaign which sees Argentina and world champions New Zealand, dramatically beaten by Lancaster’s men this time last year, also visiting Twickenham, whereas for Australia it is the opening match of a European tour.
“It’s a defining year because we’re two years out from the World Cup and we have got consistency in the coaching team and in terms of selection,” said Lancaster, whose side were beaten 20-14 by Australia in last year’s corresponding Twickenham clash.
“The next step is to consistently deliver in every game at the highest level.
“Australia have been ranked in the top three for the last three or four years.
“It’s a big game but one we’re ready for and one we should be expecting go into with confidence.”
Injuries mean England are without centres Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt.
Lancaster’s response has been to give a debut to former rugby league star Joel Tomkins, who now becomes a dual code international, with Gloucester playmaker Billy Twelvetrees, who has won just five caps himself, alongside him at inside centre.
Meanwhile scrum-half Lee Dickson has been preferred to Ben Youngs, who played for the British and Irish Lions during their 2-1 series win in Australia earlier this year.
Up front, a pack featuring England captain Chris Robshaw also includes brothers Mako and Billy Vunipola.
Unusually for England, every player in the matchday 23 is younger than 30 but Lancaster insisted this had come about by accident, not design.
“When you’re selecting a side you’re selecting on the here and now. You’re selecting on form first and foremost,” he insisted.
“The 2015 World Cup is always at the back of your mind in selection, but it’s not what drives it.
“I’m not following some sort of misguided youth policy to give every 20 or 21-year-old a game,” Lancaster added.
Any side that can score 31 points against New Zealand, albeit conceding 43, as Australia did last time out, is worthy of respect and the Wallabies have also won eight of their last 12 matches against England.
But that hasn’t stopped McKenzie from stripping James Horwill of the captaincy and naming fly-half Quade Cooper, another player he knows well from their time together at the Queensland Reds, as his new vice-captain.
Back-row Ben Mowen takes over the captaincy with Horwill, still in the second row, challenged to produce his best form by McKenzie.
“I want to get more out of James Horwill as a player,” the former Wallaby prop explained, adding: “I’m interested in guys that lead, I’m interested in how well guys play: at the moment entry into the team is about how well you play and from that we’ll work out the leadership. That’s the equation at the moment.”
McKenzie has made four changes, with an injury to lock Rob Simmons seeing Sitaleki Timani partnering Horwill.
At the back of the pack, Mowen moves to No.8 following Scott Fardy’s recall at blindside flanker while Nick Cummins, who scored his maiden Test try in last year’s Cook Cup clash, returns on the wing.