ENGLAND rugby coach Stuart Lancaster insists the door remains ajar for axed duo Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs despite showing his disregard for reputation by naming an experimental team for tomorrow’s Six Nations opener in France.
Young Exeter wing Jack Nowell and Northampton centre Luther Burrell are set for debuts, Gloucester’s Jonny May is poised to win his second cap, Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care is recalled and the pack is unchanged, meaning Lions pair Tom Youngs and Mako Vunipola start on the bench.
The outright omission of Saracens wing Ashton and Leicester No9 Ben Youngs raise questions about the international futures of two mainstays of the Lancaster era little more than a year before the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
Nowell, 20, auditions for Ashton’s role, in the absence of injured rivals Christian Wade and Harlequins-bound Marland Yarde, while Care is a long-time Lancaster protege, yet the coach expects the dropped stars to muster a response.
“My message to Chris Ashton is to keep doing what he’s doing and keep working on the little things that all players have to work on,” said Lancaster.
“I’ve always played him on that right wing and now feel it’s time to give someone else the opportunity. I’m sure Chris will be training well and fighting for that place against Scotland [on 8 February].
“Ben is no different. He'll come back fighting for that spot. Scrum-half was the most competitive position of all. Danny Care suffered the disappointment of not being involved in the first game in the autumn.
“We gave him some areas to work on – game management, his kicking game – and he’s done that.”
Lancaster also singled out May, 23, for praise as the nimble left-winger prepares to add to the cap he won on last summer’s tour to Argentina.
“Jack and Luther deserve their chance, as does Jonny May, who will be starting his first Six Nations game,” Lancaster added.
“I’ve always believed if a player’s ready and deserving an opportunity, then we need to give it to them. You’ve got to make a debut at some point.”
Burrell, 26, plays inside centre for Gloucester but moves to No13 to partner Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetrees, while Saracens’ Brad Barritt is on the bench. Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson is also among the replacements, while a lack of cover for fly-half Owen Farrell means club colleague and regular full-back Alex Goode could be pressed into action as an auxiliary No10 later in the game.
France, too, have an untried player in the XV, with Stade Francais fly-half Jules Plisson, 22, set for his debut.
Twenty-year-old Exeter wing caught eye last term, earning him a Saxons call last summer
Also shone last season for England under-20 side, scoring three tries in three games and helping land the Six Nations title
Gloucester man, 26, is used to wearing No12 but set to make his England debut at outside centre
Former league player and late bloomer in union called up for Six Nations despite not being in England elite squad
M Brown; J Nowell, L Burrell, B Twelvetrees, J May; O Farrell, D Care; J Marler, D Hartley, D Cole, J Launchbury, C Lawes, T Wood, C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola
T Youngs, M Vunipola, H Thomas, D Attwood, B Morgan, L Dickson, B Barritt, A Goode