Rugby Union

What to make of the new-look England team?

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For Stuart Lancaster, Saturday may be his final game in charge of English rugby. If that isn't to be, he will be treating this match as mission statement moving forward.

Unfortunately, the match is against Uruguay, who have been the least competitive team in the tournament, hardly the opposition against which one can make a statement.

Either way, as England prepare to prematurely bow out of their home competition, several new inclusions will want to do just that. Ignoring the fixture itself, here is what the starting XV bring to the table.


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The Backs

The most radical changes have come in the backs. Arguably England's best aspect has been some of the back play, but it is a fairly weak argument. They might have had more of a chance to impress with more prompt service from the base and that is what they will hope to get.

Danny Care has been ignored for reasons unknown to reason, and this seems to be an admission of that fact. He has long been the most consistent Scrum-half in terms of an all-round threat.

He has the best combination of swift delivery and running threat of any nine in the country. In contrast to Ben Youngs, Care will not trot from breakdown to breakdown without intent, he will be there with his head up and his ears open ready to snipe at the fringes or ship quick ball. His energy alone will be a welcome reprieve from the lethargy of Youngs.

Geroge Ford returns at fly-half where he can weave his usual magic, but this time he will have ball players and kickers outside him. Ford's main weakness is his game management under pressure; something which Owen Farrell does with the very best. The two have played together since age group rugby and are good friends off the pitch, so expect their chemistry to be swift and effective.

While England may not have a recognised strike runner in the mid-field a lá Jonathan Joseph or Manu Tuilagi, Henry Slade is a rare talent who finally gets his chance to showcase his skills. For Exeter Chiefs, he has been used frequently at outside centre and while he might not have the pace of JJ he will still make breaks due to his uncanny time on the ball and smooth footwork.
If England want to play heads up rugby, and use their considerable threats out wide, there is no better player to execute this than Slade.

There is only one change to back three as Jack Nowell makes his World Cup debut in place of Jonny May. England have been kept on the scoreboard through their wingers exploits, and Brown's mostly rock solid performances at Full Back require he stays through whatever changes the future holds.

Despite this, another young Exeter Chief gets his chance to shine. May has pace that can change a game and will keep him in the conversation, but his decision making has been suspect since his inclusion. He often seems on a different wavelength that the other players and while he usually makes it work, Nowell will gel better with his teammates.

Nowell has never yet looked out of his depth, as he constantly beats the first defender with pace and power. His sweeping work is excellent, frequently getting England out of trouble in his previous appearances.

The Pack

There are fewer changes in the forwards. This might disappoint some, but from the squad he brought to the competition, there are not many exciting options to which to defer.

Mako Vunipola replaces Joe Marler who has been out of sorts all tournament. Mako is a weaker scrummager by reputation, but he work around the park, particularly offloading make him a slightly different proposition. He shouldn't have too many issues on Saturday, and getting 60 minutes under his belt is the only way to build up the still young proposition.

James Haskell will have been one of the most frustrated men in the country last week as he watched his side get dismantled at the breakdown. While he may not have fared much better against the likes of Hooper and Pocock, he is at least more specialised in that area than the chosen flankers were.

Nick Easter will join him and Chris Robshaw in an experienced, if uninspiring back row. Easter has his merits as an intelligent, versatile player, but he made little contribution from the bench last week, and is unlikely to feature in England's unpredictable future. The more exciting options have all been left out of the squad.

It is a shame that some of these changes seem to have been forced through injury as it gives us less insight into the mindset of Lancaster. But at least the fresh blood will come into this match with a clean slate and hopefully give the nation one last chance to cheer, even if it is with a bitter aftertaste.

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