ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster has hailed the metamorphosis of Leicester’s Tom Youngs from centre to Test hooker after handing the 25-year-old his international debut in tomorrow’s clash with Fiji.
Youngs, whose scrum-half brother Ben will start the first of this month’s four Tests on the bench, is one of five changes from England’s last match against South Africa in June and replaces the injured Dylan Hartley.
He only switched positions three years ago and still has just seven Aviva Premiership starts at hooker to his name, but did enough in midweek matches during the summer tour to impress Lancaster.
“There are not many centres who transfer from hooker, so mental resilience and toughness is one of his strengths. So too are his physicality, his handling, his defence and his set piece,” said Lancaster.
“He has areas to work on but the scrum power he brings is phenomenal. People make a lot of his throwing but he has done it consistently in big games. He deserves his chance.”
Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw returns to the back row alongside Tom Johnson of Exeter and Leicester’s Thomas Waldrom to skipper an inexperienced England side against the Pacific islanders at Twickenham.
Gloucester’s Charlie Sharples and Quins’ Ugo Monye are restored to the wings, in place of the suspended Chris Ashton and the injured Ben Foden respectively, while the other change sees Saracens centre Brad Barritt deputise for Jonathan Joseph of London Irish, who has an ankle problem.
Uncapped Wasps forward Joe Launchbury and fellow international newcomer, Saracens prop Mako Vunipola, join Ben Youngs and Northampton flanker Tom Wood among the replacements.
Fiji represent the easiest task of a daunting November for Lancaster’s injury-depleted squad, who host the cream of the southern hemisphere in the form of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand this month.
“This is the start of a huge four-week journey for us that will test us in every way. It is about putting a marker down at the start of this series,” Lancaster added.
“There is a lot of consistency from the South Africa tour, particularly the team that played, in the last Test, which is based on form in the Premiership.”
England’s starting line-up, which is also missing prop Alex Corbisiero and flanker Courtney Lawes, boasts just 215 caps in total, even fewer than in Lancaster’s first match in charge against Scotland in February.
TEAM TO FACE FIJI
A Goode (Saracens); C Sharples (Gloucester), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), U Monye (Harlequins); T Flood (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), T Palmer (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), T Johnson (Exeter), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Waldrom (Leicester).
Replacements: D Paice (London Irish), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), T Wood (Northampton), B Youngs (Leicester), O Farrell (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins)