May 10, 2012
Scrum-half Danny Care is set to return to England colours in South Africa - but will he make the most of the opportunity? © PA Photos
England boss Stuart Lancaster has thrown down the gauntlet to a host of fresh faces who face a baptism of fire in South Africa next month.
A total of 13 uncapped players have been handed the chance to impress on what is sure to be a brutal three-Test, five-match tour and that number may yet grow with the battle for Aviva Premiership and Top 14 glory yet to reach a climax and the Super Rugby season not yet at the half way point.
Injury or suspension has already stripped him of the services of the likes of Tom Croft, Courtney Lawes, Calum Clark, Tom Wood and Charlie Sharples and his fingers will be crossed over the next few weeks as many of his charges go in search of domestic honours.
A total of 33 members of his 42-man squad are likely to be on duty this weekend so they will not be printing the plane tickets just yet. But at the same time, Lancaster may welcome the prospect of taking so many fit and firing players to South Africa.
Unsurprisingly Lancaster has kept faith with much of the squad that took great strides in this year's Six Nations and the welcome return of extended tours and midweek clashes enables him to cement those foundations while handing an opportunity to some of the other form players and those rising stars worthy of a taste of bigger things.
Falling into that latter category are four graduates from the England U20s side that pushed their New Zealand counterparts all the way at last year's IRB Junior World Championship. The promotion of Wasps flyer Christian Wade into the senior ranks is perhaps the least surprising considering an impressive nine-try tally in an injury-disrupted Premiership campaign. Another to benefit from the dog-fight that Wasps have found themselves in for much of the season is flanker Joe Launchbury whose speedy ascent to fully fledged international star shows no signs of slowing down.
London Irish centre Jonathan Joseph is another to have clearly benefited from that exposure but he is highly-unlikely to get as close a view of the Springboks as former team-mate Owen Farrell whose emergence as a key part of Lancaster's England can only serve as inspiration. Another rising star, Leicester fly-half George Ford may have been favoured by many to make the trip but the decision to withdraw the player in favour of a full pre-season with the Tigers will benefit the playmaker in the long term whose relatively lightweight frame is arguably not yet ready for a fired up Boks pack just yet.
Opportunity knocks for nine other uncapped players handed the chance to impress. The likes of Leicester's Thomas Waldrom and Graham Kitchener, Bath's Carl Fearns, Saracens' Alex Goode and Exeter's Tom Johnson can all expect to see plenty of midweek action with injuries maybe opening the door to one of the Test sides. Others, such as Leicester hooker Tom Youngs, yet to start a Premiership game in his most recent position, can view this as a learning experience - again unless fate intervenes.
The recall of scrum-half Danny Care at the end of a season dogged by off-field headlines and indiscipline will no doubt cause a stir but his form for title-chasing Quins all but demanded his return. Having seen his Rugby World Cup dreams ended by injury and his Six Nations hopes dashed by stupidity, he has returned to what he does best and will push Leicester rival Ben Youngs all the way for the Test No.9 shirt. But any hint of indiscipline - on or off the field - could prove costly no matter how sparkling his form.
The inclusion of flanker James Haskell may also raise an eyebrow or two given his recent rugby odyssey that currently sees him lining up for the Highlanders in New Zealand. Having been out of the loop since a World Cup that plumbed the depths, there is concern that Haskell may struggle to settle in a much-changed England environment but he has already won over a New Zealand public that took a dislike to an ill-disciplined England with a credit-worthy work ethic and his form and hunger will also come into the equation.
A recent ban, that is set to be extended by a week, will ensure he links up with England relatively fresh and don't expect him to waste the opportunity to catch the eye ahead of a return to London Wasps next season. Another who can expect a strict talking to is hooker Dylan Hartley whose eight-week ban for biting the finger of Ireland's Stephen Ferris during their Six Nations clash ends just in time for the first Test on June 9. Lancaster will clearly not accept a repeat especially in the white-hot heat of a battle with the Boks.
An equally pressing issue for the England boss will be ensuring that his huge squad remain united. Balancing the desire and disappointment of so many players will be a task in itself and may well be a key to success. To that end, he will have to lean heavily on his captain - the recently-celebrated Chris Robshaw - and his senior players.
Together they must ensure that discipline remains at the forefront of the Lancaster era as the side encounters their first major speed bump on the road to the 2015 World Cup.
Forwards: M Botha (Saracens), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), A Corbisiero (London Irish), P Doran-Jones (Northampton Saints), P Dowson (Northampton Saints), C Fearns (Bath Rugby), J Gray (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), J Haskell (Otago Highlanders), T Johnson (Exeter Chiefs), G Kitchener (Leicester Tigers), J Launchbury (London Wasps), J Marler (Harlequins), L Mears (Bath Rugby), B Morgan (Scarlets), M Mullan (Worcester Warriors), T Palmer (Stade Francais), G Parling (Leicester Tigers), C Robshaw (capt, Harlequins), G Robson (Harlequins), M Stevens (Saracens), T Waldrom (Leicester Tigers), T Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Backs: A Allen (Leicester Tigers), C Ashton (Northampton Saints), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins), D Care (Harlequins), L Dickson (Northampton Saints), O Farrell (Saracens), T Flood (Leicester Tigers), B Foden (Northampton Saints), A Goode (Saracens), C Hodgson (Saracens), J Joseph (London Irish), G Lowe (Harlequins), U Monye (Harlequins), D Strettle (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), J Turner-Hall (Harlequins), C Wade (London Wasps), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Players not considered due to injury or suspension: Chris Brooker (knee),Stuart Hooper (arm), Calum Clark (suspended), Tom Croft (neck), Louis Deacon (hamstring), Courtney Lawes (shin), Charlie Sharples (shoulder ), Joe Simpson (shoulder), Henry Thomas (knee), Rob Webber (shoulder), David Wilson (wrist), Tom Wood (toe), Nick Wood (chest)
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.