England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster has included two uncapped players in his squad for the autumn internationals, whilst injury and retirements have deprived him of seven others.
"Looking at the players who have retired, Charlie Hodgson has had a poor season so far anyway, Matt Stevens was exposed as being well past his international use-by date on tour to South Africa and the less said about Lee Mears the better."
Rugby fans were given a glimpse of the future today when England's head coach Stuart Lancaster named a 32-man squad for his first Autumn international campaign.
Injuries and retirements have deprived Lancaster of no fewer than seven of the players who toured South Africa in the summer and he is to be commended for looking to younger players to fill the gaps rather than merely recalling those who have been tried and who have failed.
Looking at the players who have retired, Charlie Hodgson has had a poor season so far anyway, Matt Stevens was exposed as being well past his international use-by date on that tour and the less said about Lee Mears the better. You can therefore make a case that their replacements only make the squad stronger anyway. Mears' place goes to Tom Youngs, who is the latest in a long line of fine hookers to come from Leicester Tigers and who can expect to be on the bench for the opening game against Fiji.
Replacing the injured quartet of Alex Corbisiero, Tom Croft, Ben Foden and Rob Webber has also posed few problems for Lancaster. Croft's absence is more than made up for by the returns of Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes, who both missed the South African tour with injury, whilst Corbisiero's knee problem gives a chance for the uncapped Saracens prop Mako Vunipola to stake a claim to the loosehead spot.
Unsurprisingly, given Lancaster's recent pronouncements on the subject, none of England's French-based players find a place in the squad. This means that there is no call-up for Steffon Armitage, the flanker who has been one of the outstanding players in Europe recently, but at the same time it means that London Wasps' James Haskell can return to the fold after spending two seasons with Stade Francais.
Also returning to the squad is winger Ugo Monye, who was ruled out of the final match against South Africa after being knocked out in midweek. His inclusion suggests that either Mike Brown or Alex Goode will replace Foden at full-back.
England open the tournament against Fiji, who they are a mere 1.021/50 to beat. Lancaster's sides have been dogged by ill-discipline at the breakdown, though, and the return of Haskell is unlikely to improve this, so the 2.1211/10 on the first scoring play of that game being a Fijian penalty looks a good bet.
Back Fiji at 2.1211/10 to kick a penalty as the first scoring play of their game against England