Opportunity knocks for young guns
May 9, 2013
Tom Wood will get the chance to prove to Stuart Lancaster that he is the right choice to lead England forward © PA Photos
The squad has been named for the summer tour and it will give Stuart Lancaster an invaluable opportunity to run the rule over some players who previously he had question marks hanging over. He will now know if they can cope in a pressure environment and Tom Wood will do well as captain.
Wood seemed nailed on for the captaincy when Lancaster first got the job but he suffered his injury and could not carry on. He reminds me of Martin Corry, as he's a steady, reliable player in the back-row and does all of his jobs. He might not get all of the plaudits he deserves but you need him in the team. If you look at the squad, Wood and the back-row - I don't want to kick a man while he's down, but Chris Robshaw might have to reinvent himself a little bit.
The best thing that could have happened for Robshaw would have been to get a nice three or four week ban around Christmas as he has played so much rugby - he needs a rest. And we all know he's a great guy, an expert captain and leader but throughout your international career, when someone takes your shirt, whether you're rested or not, you have to reinvent yourself.
For me, he should focus on openside and be a menace at the breakdown. He should forget about carrying the ball or trying to link up as a passing seven in a primary support role and should play a little bit more like Luke Wallace is.
I cannot believe he did not make the cut for the tour. I do not know what it is but all the southern hemisphere sides want an out-and-out seven. Wales finished as Six Nations champions and played one, and we need someone in that mould. Matt Kvesic is a good seven but Wallace is definitely up there. For me, Wood is in the Robshaw mould and is not your ball winning openside like your Kvesic or Wallace. But in the pack I am really looking forward to seeing Kvesic get a chance, and the same goes for Harlequins' Rob Buchanan who has impressed me this season.
The tour is a real opportunity for guys who have been hauled down to the Six Nations squad as basically fodder on a training day - people like Billy Vunipola or Christian Wade. They are only there for the experience but if they now go out there and perform with Wade scoring tries and Vunipola carrying, then when the England coaching staff are caught with 50-50 decisions, then they may look back at this tour and look at those sorts of performances.
It is great to see Wade included - I've been vocal about him, I would have taken him on the Lions tour. In 2001 Jason Robinson went having only played a couple of games for England and, Brian O'Driscoll aside, he was the star of the tour. The Lions have missed an opportunity there and it may be because I am a short arse, but I have been crying out for a bit of balance in that back line and Wade could have brought that for the Lions alongside the giant wingers.
Christian Wade should be on the Lions tour, according to Austin Healey © PA Photos
But despite Wade's inclusion I expect Lancaster, when it comes to picking a side for the first Test against the Pumas, to pick Alex Goode, David Strettle and Mike Brown. If I was coaching the side, I would plump for Goode, Christian Wade and maybe Jonny May.
And then there is Ben Foden. He's had a difficult season what with his injury, which then got infected, and there could have been an argument for leaving him in England along with the others rested. That's not a criticism of his ability, far from it, but I think he needs a full pre-season to get his ankle sorted once and for all and back to the quality player we know he is.
But England is the ultimate draw, along with the Lions. In 1998 I needed a rest and should not have gone on the 'Tour of Hell' but when England come calling, you always accept the offer.
Lancaster, alongside Robshaw, has also opted to rest Danny Care, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt and Toby Flood. For Care, this now gives him an opportunity to re-charge his batteries, but if the Lions get an injury then he will be the first man out there. He needs to rest, stay off the sauce and take his chance if it is handed to him. I'm sure the five players would want to be out there, but this is a great opportunity to get some valuable time away from the game ahead of next season.
Success on this tour should not be judged by whether they come back with a series victory or not. They will want to come back from Argentina with five, six or seven new names that Lancaster would happily put on a team sheet. That team in 2003 had 31 or 32 names Clive would pick from but at the moment Lancaster probably has 22 or 23. If you can get that up to 30 then you become a much more serious contender on the international arena.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby
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