Debutant trio keen to impress
February 2, 2012
Phil Dowson, Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt all take their England bows on Saturday © Getty Images
England trio Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Phil Dowson are all relishing the chance to pull on the red rose shirt for the first time when they face Scotland in the Calcutta Cup clash on Saturday.
Saracens pair Farrell and Barritt will become England's first uncapped centre pairing since 2002 - and only the second since 1969 - while Dowson gets his long-awaited chance at number eight. England's interim head coach Stuart Lancaster has named another five uncapped players on the bench for the Calcutta Cup showdown as he looks to build "a team for now and a team for the future".
Lancaster's starting line-up boasts just 236 Test caps, including Lions appearances, compared to Scotland's 501. The Scottish pack alone has more international experience than England.
Farrell has been fast-tracked from a loan spell at Bedford to the senior England team, and a start at inside centre against Scotland, in the space of 16 heady months. Barritt, whose maternal grandparents were born in England, pledged his allegiance to the red rose after moving from South Africa to Saracens in 2008. Dowson, 30, is a decade older than Farrell and at the opposite end of the spectrum, having waited six years frustrating years to get his opportunity with England.
"The first thing I did was phone my sister Louisa. She asked me why it took so long," said Dowson. "I played my first Saxons game in 2005, a lifetime ago in sports terms. I've tried to use the experience of not being picked as motivation to get here and it's finally paid off. "I want to make sure I seize that opportunity and relish it."
Dowson, inexplicably to some, failed to make England's World Cup training squad despite his central role in Northampton's run to last season's Heineken Cup final.
"He's hugely experienced as a leader, he's desperate to play for England and that is a big factor for me," Lancaster said. "He has worked and worked and worked, tried and tried and tried and he deserves his opportunity to get the start."
In contrast, Farrell has rocketed into the England side. He started last season on loan at Bedford but took his chance with Saracens after being recalled to cover an injury crisis. Farrell proved his big game temperament in Saracens' Aviva Premiership final victory over Leicester and he is relishing the prospect of stepping out into the Murrayfield cauldron.
The 20-year-old has no doubts he is ready. "The team gets picked on form and nothing else. I am looking forward to getting stuck in," Farrell said. "Stuart has put a system in place where players can go out and express themselves and I am really looking forward to being part of that.
"The build-up is different but (the mindset) doesn't change for me whether the crowd is 82,000 or 6,000. I am looking to take the atmosphere in, I am looking to enjoy it and hopefully thrive off it. It's what you play rugby for, to enjoy those moments.
"I try to take my nerves and put them into excitement. As I walk out I have a huge smile on my face. I take the occasion in - and then it's game time. Once you get out there you have a job to do and that is what you have got to focus on."
Farrell, Barritt and fly-half Charlie Hodgson, who will start his first Test in four years this weekend, have built up a successful relationship for Saracens.
"We know each other inside out now," Farrell said. "We have been playing together all this year but it is not just that, we are good mates. And when you are going out there to play big games you put your body on the line for your mates."
The last time England fielded two debutant centres was in 2002, when Geoff Appleford and Ben Johnston played in a 26-18 win against Argentina in Buenos Aires. Like Appleford, Barritt hails from Kwazulu-Natal but he has close family in England and said he was "immensely proud and excited" to be selected.
Barritt is accustomed to hostile environments, having played for the Sharks against the Bulls in Pretoria, but Murrayfield has not been a happy hunting ground for England. Scotland have not lost to the 'auld enemy' there since 2004 and Lancaster is sending up an inexperienced side, with a total of eight uncapped players in the 22.
"We realise this is a huge occasion," Lancaster said. "We have a quiet confidence".
Chris Robshaw captains England in only his second Test appearance, while Saracens lock Mouritz Botha will be making his first international start. The England team features 10 changes from the side that beat Scotland in the World Cup last October and nine from the quarter-final defeat to France. Jonny Wilkinson, Steve Thompson and Lewis Moody have retired while England are without the injured trio of Toby Flood, Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker