New-look England look for winning start to autumn campaign
November 8, 2012
Saracens' Alex Goode has got the nod for England at fullback © Getty Images
England will kick-off their autumn Test programme with a match against Fiji on Saturday and Stuart Lancaster will hope his team put down a marker ahead of their clashes with the world's best three sides.
England's match with Fiji is the first of four Tests with Lancaster's team entertaining Australia, South Africa and New Zealand waiting in the coming weeks. And with the opening match the perceived easiest of the four, a capacity crowd at Twickenham will be hopeful that England deliver. Following on from their second-place finish in the 2012 Six Nations, they journeyed to South Africa full of hope of obtaining a southern hemisphere scalp but they returned with just one draw from their three Tests.
Much has been made of the change of culture under Lancaster, but he now claims it is time his team delivered, and that means beating the top three sides in the International Rugby Board rankings. With the draw for the 2015 World Cup happening in December, England will also be looking to retain their place in the top four of the ranking and in the process secure a top-seed spot.
While the win over Fiji will do little for their ranking, it will be seen as an essential learning exercise for Lancaster's youthful team. But the victory is by no means certain. Fiji boast a team consisting of well known Aviva Premiership and Top 14 players alongside some fresh faces. The Pacific Islanders are always an unpredictable quantity but Fiji will have noticed that Tonga and Samoa have both recorded huge wins in the past 18 months, over France and Australia respectively, and will be pining after similar headlines.
England - Player to Watch: Alex Goode has been picked at fullback and starts ahead of rival Mike Brown with Ben Foden injured. The Sarries back has flirted with the fly-half berth in the past but now seems settled at the back of the field and has the chance to put down a real marker to the England backroom staff.
England - Team News: Tom Youngs makes his debut in the front-row and will pack down alongside Dan Cole and Joe Marler. In the locks Geoff Parling and Tom Palmer keep their place with Tom Johnson, skipper Chris Robshaw and Thomas Waldrom forming the back-row. Danny Care pips Ben Youngs for the scrum-half berth with Toby Flood alongside him. Jonathan Joseph failed a fitness test earlier this week so Brad Barritt lines up with Manu Tuilagi in the centres while Charlie Sharples and Ugo Monye profit from Chris Ashton's suspension and Foden's injury to take the winger berths. Goode gets the nod at fullback while Joe Launchbury and Mako Vunipola could make their debuts for England from the bench.
Fiji - Player to Watch: Akapusi Qera may not have been part of Fiji's plans a little while ago amid doubts about keeping his place at Premiership side Gloucester, but rest assured he will be at the centre of proceedings at Twickenham.
Fiji - Team News: Fiji have named three uncapped players in their squad with winger Samu Wara and lock Apisalome Ratuniyarawa set to start the game and Manasa Saulo also in line to win his first Test cap if he comes off the bench. Elsewhere there are some familiar faces with Leicester's Vereniki Goneva lining up alongside Exeter Chiefs' Sireli Naqelevuki in the centres. Scarlets prop Deacon Manu takes the tight-head berth while Gloucester's Akapusi Qera props up the scrum at No.8 after receiving a late call-up into the squad. Replacement
Key Battle: Leicester boss Richard Cockerill will no doubt be watching through his fingers as England centre Manu Tuilagi and Fiji rival Niki Goneva - both Tigers players - go head-to-head in a potentially bone-crunching midfield battle.
Trivia: New Zealander Glen Jackson makes his maiden appearance as an international referee when he officiates in Saturday's Test between England and Fiji. The former Saracens fly-half makes his international refereeing debut in the same stadium where he played his last game as a player; he was part of the Saracens team that were beaten 33-27 at Twickenham in the 2010 Aviva Premiership final.The England starting XV has just 215 caps between them. It is one of their most inexperienced line ups of the professional era.
Stats: England's record score against Fiji came in November 1989 when they beat the visitors 58-23 in Twickenham. The 35 point difference in that game between remains the biggest winning margin between the two sides.
"The foundations are in place, now it's time for us to execute and deliver."
"England may have the facilities but we have the team spirit and the willingness to die for each other"
Prediction: England's relatively inexperienced line-up should still have too much for a Fijian side short on preparation time and lacking the all round quality boasted by the hosts.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September