ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster has thrown down the gauntlet to Chris Ashton after revealing he was on the brink of dropping the Saracens wing for tomorrow’s Test against Argentina.
In-form Wasps wing Christian Wade, who has five tries in the Premiership this season, had been inked in to make his Twickenham bow until he tweaked a hamstring in training on Tuesday.
Instead Ashton, who has crossed just twice in the top flight and has not touched down for England for nine months, keeps his place, while Northampton’s Ben Foden replaces injured London Irish star Marland Yarde on the left flank.
“Christian Wade was close, very close,” said Lancaster, who has changed the entire front row from the side that beat Australia 20-13 last weekend.
“We trained with him on Tuesday and he trained really well, but just as we were moving towards the final decision, and in the last play of the training session, he bent down to pick a ball up and his hamstring tightened.
“A player like Christian needs to be 100 per cent both mentally and physically. So he just misses out and as a consequence Chris Ashton gets an opportunity to play again.
“I’m sure he will have plenty to prove and will have been disappointed that we were leaning that way. But equally now he has an opportunity to improve on his performance last week. It was not all bad by any stretch of the imagination but he was disappointed and it is a big chance for him now.”
Lancaster also defended the decision to select Harlequins Joe Marler and Bath’s David Wilson in place of props Mako Vunipola, who has a knee injury, and Dan Cole, who starts on the bench alongside fit-again Alex Corbisiero. Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley is recalled in place of Tom Youngs, whose wife gave birth to a daughter yesterday, to complete an all-new front row.
Asked if picking Wilson over Cole was a risk, he said: “No, I don’t think so at all. He was outstanding in Argentina in the summer and his good form has continued with Bath this season. I’m sure Cole will play a big role in the second half.”
Inexperienced centre pair Billy Twelvetrees and Joel Tomkins have another chance to impress before next week’s final November international against New Zealand.
TEAM VS ARGENTINA
Mike Brown, Chris Ashton,
Joel Tomkins, Billy Twelvetrees,
Ben Foden, Owen Farrell, Lee Dickson; Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley,
David Wilson, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood,
Chris Robshaw (capt), Billy Vunipola.
Tom Youngs, Alex Corbisiero, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Ben Morgan, Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, Alex Goode.