England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster and Backs Coach Andy Farrell yesterday announced their Elite Player Squad for the 2013 QBE Internationals.
In the impressive setting of the Adam Room in the Lloyds building at the heart of the city’s financial district, Lancaster and Farrell unveiled an updated Elite Player Squad that will take on the might of Australia, Argentina and New Zealand across three consecutive weekends in November.
No doubt they’ll be nervous as the squad head into a round of Heineken Cup matches over the weekend before meeting for a training camp in Leeds on Monday. “We’ve got some big European games over this coming weekend,” noted Lancaster, “but fingers crossed there won’t be any more changes.”
Loosehead prop Alex Corbisiero would have fancied his chances of starting in the no.1 jersey after starring on the Lions tour but is already among those being monitored, having had “a small amount of fluid” drained from his knee after Saints’ clash against Castres last weekend. “It’s been recommended that he has a couple of weeks of rehab. He’s definitely not out of the QBE Internationals and everyone is optimistic that he’ll come through and be available for some, if not all the games. We’ll give him plenty of time but ultimately we’ll do what’s right for Alex.”
Seemingly a recurring problem in the England backline, the make-up of the centre pairing is undoubtedly what fans will be debating over the next couple of weeks. While Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi put the New Zealand defence to shame a year ago, both will miss the whole series this time round, Barritt recovering from foot surgery and Tuilagi out with a torn pec, presumably from too much bunny-earing of David Cameron.
As such, three of the four additions to the squad are centres: Henry Trinder, Luther Burrell and Joel Tomkins, while Tom Johnson fills the hole left by Tom Croft’s knee injury that will prevent him playing for the rest of the season.
Lancaster remains positive though: “You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself that you’ve lost one or two key players or you can look at the positive side of it being an opportunity to see these guys play. It’ll be great to see our established players back in Leeds but obviously there are some injuries and one or two people coming in on form. It’s great to have the likes of Henry, Luther, Joel and Tom Johnson in the squad.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the four is Gloucester centre Trinder, who has leapfrogged the Saxons squad – and Jonathan Joseph in the process – and landed straight in the EPS. “He’s impressed us an awful lot,” commented Farrell, “first and foremost with his maturity within his game. He’s one of the players that has matured the fastest to making the right decisions at the right time. He’s the type of player that has a big box of tricks and, if you go back and watch his individual performances, there’s a bit of everything in there: his ability to beat people is great, not just with his feet but also his hands, and also his kicking game is sensational.”
Lancaster agrees: “Henry has struggled a bit, through injuries, to get a consistent run of form but he’s started the season exceptionally well, we’ve had a good look at him and he’s in the squad on merit. It’s tough on some others but picking on form and fitness he should be fighting for a place in the team.”
Saints centre Luther Burrell has also caught the attention of the coaches, Lancaster noting that “you need a balance in your backline of ball-players, some physicality and some finishers. Luther has shown in that 12 channel this season that he’s got more to his game than just being a straight up the line inside centre. His distribution has been as good as anyone’s and he’s pushing hard in that slot as well.”
Rugby league convert Joel Tomkins is the last addition to the squad as centre cover and Farrell (himself a former league player) is “very impressed by how he has embraced the 15man game. He’s still learning and still wanting to get better but he’s made great strides. He’s a big boy and will be a handful for any side to handle in the centres.”