This Saturday England get their QBE Autumn International Series underway with a game against Fiji at Twickenham. In what will be their easiest match in a fixture list that includes Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, Stuart Lancaster’s men will be aiming to build a strong platform looking ahead to the RBS 6 Nations next spring.
Notable inclusions in Lancaster’s 23 man squad are young prop Mako Vunipola, lock Joe Launchbury and Leicester hooker Tom Youngs, brother of scrum half Ben. With Dylan Hartley undergoing scans on a knee injury and Bath’s Rob Webber sidelined after a shoulder operation, Youngs could well earn his first start for his country on Saturday. After playing for England under 20s at centre and representing the national sevens side, Youngs’s journey to the number 2 shirt has been far from conventional.
Despite featuring in England’s tour of South Africa, Youngs remains cautious of talk of his full debut, “To play with my brother at Twickenham is something we always dreamed of, but whether it’s going to happen, we don’t know.” The likelihood of this dream becoming reality on Saturday still hangs in the balance as brother Ben faces a fight for full fitness and also for his starting place with Harlequins’ Danny Care. Lancaster will hope that the junior of the two Youngs brothers does not add to his ever-growing list of absentees which currently includes Tom Croft, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Jonathan Joseph and a suspended Chris Ashton. The absence of England’s premier try- scorer on Saturday will see to a direct shootout for the remaining wing spot for the rest of the series, likely to be contested by Ugo Monye and Charlie Sharples.
As a result of these niggling injuries, the England team against Fiji is not likely to reflect the team which will play against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in later weeks. Lancaster has the opportunity to be more experimental with his selection against weaker opposition. However there is to be no place in the matchday squad for previous England regulars James Haskell, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson and Moritz Botha.
The starting line up for Saturday is expected to be: Marler, Youngs, Cole, Palmer, Parling, Johnson, Robshaw (c), Waldrom; Care, Flood, Monye, Barritt, Tuilagi, Sharples, Brown Replacements: Paice, Vunipola, Wilson, Launchbury, Wood, B. Youngs, Farrell, Goode So what can we expect from this England side in the Autumn International Series? Anything other than a convincing win against Fiji will be greeted with disappointment by everyone surrounding the team. As for the other three games, England will be hoping to come away with at least one other victory, with the Australia game being their best chance.
Winning games against South Africa and New Zealand may prove a step too far at this stage but if this England side can show evidence of a common purpose and an attractive style of rugby, then the series will be deemed a successful one by staff and supporters alike. Lancaster’s England will be starting their autumn internationals series this Saturday with a match against Fiji. It is a home match for those lucky enough to get a ticket and kick-off is scheduled for 2:30pm.
Author: Jack Fairs