With the 6 Nations approaching fast, the squads are starting to take shape: as always there is some controversy surrounding who gets picked – or dropped, as the case may be. This year Stuart Lancaster has been forced to move quite a few younger players into the fold, the question is will his inexperienced newbies be enough to take on the experienced squads of the other nations? Liz Tyler investigates.
Phillipe Saint-André, French head coach, has had to replace two huge losses: François Trinh-Duc and Clément Pointrenaud. Saint-André has opted to induct some newcomers into the pack to cover the gaps: Stade-Français fly half Jules Plisson steps up alongside two uncapped fullbacks: Stade’s Hugo Bonneval and Geoffrey Palis from Castres.
Also joining the ranks of the French squad is the uncapped Stade-Français flanker, Antoine Burban. Burban may now see some more game time as the French captain, Theirry Dusautoir, has had to pull out of the 6 Nations due to an injury he picked up in the last round of the Heineken Cup.
Italy’s squad, containing highly experienced players like the 101-time capped Martin Castrogiovanni, now includes two new faces. Jaques Brunel, Italian head coach, has chosen to introduce 20-year-old Trevisian Angelo Esposito, who has been involved in the national team’s campaigns before but has never earned a cap, and Zebre scrum half Guglielmo Palazzani to add depth to his pack.
Irish head coach Joseph Schmidt is embracing the experience of his current squad, only selecting one uncapped player, New Zealand born Rodney Ah You who recently qualified via residency. The selection of this Maori prop beefs up Schmidt’s otherwise experienced squad, which includes potential retiree Brian O’Driscoll, who has already notched up 128 caps for his country.
Scott Johnson, like Schmidt, has chosen an experienced set of player for his Scottish squad. The only new blood in the Scotland elite squad is flanker Chris Fusaro from the Glasgow Warriors. Though the rest of the squad has at least one cap to their name, Schmidt is handing over the reins of his A-team to 19-year-old twice-capped Jonnie Gray to captain his side against an inexperienced England A-side on January 31st.
For England, Lancaster takes the biggest risk with six new players stepping into the frame, with injuries depleting his normal stock. The loss of Lions star Geoff Parling in the second row left a huge hole in the forward pack; Lancaster turned to the player currently stepping into Geoff’s very large shoes at club level, the uncapped Tiger Ed Slater. Slater also offers an interchangeability in the second and back rows, making his selection a prominent one with the loss of another of his club mates, Tom Croft, to injury.
With his forwards further dwindling due to the loss of Alex Corbisiero, Lancaster gives Sale Sharks prop Henry Thomas the nod. The England backs too suffered some losses but the introduction of Bath’s Anthony Watson and Exeter’s Jack Nowell could see some young guns take over in the back three.
Manu Tuilagi’s sustained injury sees him due to miss the competition too, leaving a hole in the centre for England; Lancaster turning to Northampton Saints’ Luther Burrell to step into the fold. Toby Flood’s departure to an unknown French side at the end of the season left Lancaster no choice but to drop him from the squad. George Ford and once-capped Stephen Myler have been given the opportunity to step up.
But is all this new blood good for these sides? Reigning champions Wales have no uncapped players in their squad; Warren Gatland instead relying on the experience of his current pack of previous winners.
It is clear to see that these national teams are trying to give their young players a chance to prove their form, but does the selection of these newbies jeopardise their chances of victory? Perhaps you could say that England are taking the greatest risk by picking so many uncapped players but with their injury list seeming to grow daily it is hard to see how they could select a squad without any new blood.
Even top players have to gain their first cap at some point, after all, and with the 2015 World Cup looming these players need to be given a chance sooner rather than later.
So, is bringing uncapped players into a 6 Nations squad a huge risk? Or will this fresh meat bring a new, exciting element to these national sides’ game? Only time will tell.