Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Lancaster launches "defining year"

Coach Graham Rowntree wants England to control their aggression

Stuart Lancaster insists England will launch a "defining year" when Australia visit Twickenham for the opening QBE International on Saturday.

The countdown to the 2015 World Cup begins in earnest with fixtures against the Wallabies, Argentina and New Zealand comprising a key phase of the squad's build-up to the tournament.

Lancaster believes that while the fluctuating fortunes of last autumn were built on shaky foundations, his principles are now becoming ingrained.

England's head coach has adopted a no excuses policy and expects victory against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.

"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," he said.

"We've had some good experiences and some not so good, but the good have outweighed the not so good. It's a matter of building on those now.

"We've won seven out of the last eight games, but we've not consistently delivered in every game.

"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.

"Alongside Argentina and New Zealand, we'll have to go into the game with the expectation of winning."

Lancaster has lofty ambitions for the autumn despite naming an inexperienced starting XV against Australia containing only 213 caps, 12 less than the 225 on the bench.

Joel Tomkins will become a dual code international after being given his debut at outside centre where he will playing alongside Billy Twelvetrees, who has made just five Test appearances

Lee Dickson has been preferred to the more experienced Ben Youngs at scrum-half based on his superior club form, Marland Yarde wins his second cap on the left wing and Billy Vunipola makes his full debut at number eight.

Every player in the 23 is younger than 30 with Dickson, n, Toby Flood, Ben Foden and David Wilson the oldest at 28, but Lancaster insists his team selection was not influenced by age.

"When you're selecting a side you're selecting on the here and now. You're selecting on form first and foremost," he said.

"In the back of your mind you think about two years' time and giving opportunities to players who you think will be around at that point.

"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.

"It makes it an exciting time to be building a team for not just 2015, but way beyond because these guys should be around for a long time."

The main area of concern is in the centres where injuries to Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi force the raw partnership of Tomkins and Twelvetrees to carry the fight to the Wallabies.

"There's no magic wand we can wave to create an experienced midfield given that when the 2011 World Cup finished there were over 15 players over 30-years-old who finished," Lancaster said.

"There were players like Mike Tindall who had 60 or 70 caps. At some point we had to make a transition.

"We lost Brad and Manu who have more experience, but even then you wouldn't put them in the 30-40 caps bracket.

"When you only have a limited number of games each year, that's the way it is.

"It's not a bad position to be in two years out from a World Cup - I'd rather be in this position than have a 32-33-year-old side and you're thinking 'will this side make it to 2013'."