Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Lancaster keen to test fringe players

Chris Robshaw is set to be unavailable for England's tour of Argentina
Chris Robshaw is set to be unavailable for England's tour of Argentina

Stuart Lancaster is ready to use the "critical" summer tour of Argentina as a vehicle to ramp up the pressure on established members of the England team - including captain Chris Robshaw.

Lancaster will be without a number of his senior players for the four-match trip to south America in June, with the likes of Robshaw, Tom Croft and Dan Cole among those set for British and Irish Lions duty.

Lancaster will use his captain's absence as a golden chance to take a close look at Worcester's Matt Kvesic, Saracens' Will Fraser and Robshaw's Harlequins understudy Luke Wallace. "Argentina will be critical for us because we go to a hostile environment and put ourselves under pressure," Lancaster said.

Wales, as Australia did in the autumn, proved the value of playing with an out-and-out ball-winning openside flanker against an England back row that was committed but unbalanced in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations decider.

Cole has missed only one Test since his debut in 2010 but forwards coach Graham Rowntree is excited by the prospect of blooding Sale's Henry Thomas on the summer tour. Lancaster is also ready to give Billy Twelvetrees another opportunity in midfield after the Gloucester centre was dropped to the bench two games into the Six Nations.

The entire England back three are under pressure. Chris Ashton's form has plummeted while Alex Goode's full-back claims would be weakened by the inclusion of Twelvetrees as a ball-playing centre.

Lancaster has acknowledged the need for speed and power, which could precipitate Manu Tuilagi being moved to the wing while he also has the exciting trio of Christian Wade, Marland Yarde and Jonny May pressing their claims hard. Two Tests in Argentina will be a fierce examination of those England youngsters - which is exactly what Lancaster is after.

Lancaster added: "That is why we want midweek games as well. It gives us a chance to work with a wider group of players and (see) which players can make the transition from club to country and play and deliver in a hostile environment.

"I don't see wholesale changes taking places. I see increased pressure on certain players, definitely, which is what should happen. In your back line you've got to have a balance of ball-carriers, finishers and creators - that's an important balance to achieve.

"Billy Twelvetrees is in our squad. We have him in our thoughts and now we've got him he'll be pushing very hard because a ball-player at 12 definitely helps. We need to look at players who can be the point of difference, players who can beat people one-on-one or go through a hole."

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