Chris Robshaw has not had the smoothest of months and more turbulence could lie ahead following confirmation that his back-row colleague Tom Wood will captain England on their upcoming tour to Argentina this summer.
The head coach, Stuart Lancaster, has stressed that Robshaw will definitely be named in his revised elite player squad in July but nothing, so far, is guaranteed on the captaincy front.
Wood might have been chosen as captain ahead of Robshaw last year had a foot injury not intervened, since when the Harlequins flanker has led the national side with some success. With Robshaw among five players rested for the two-Test series against the Pumas, however, the Northampton back-rower now has a chance to show Lancaster precisely what he can offer as a leader. "He's got great leadership qualities and he's a winner," stressed Lancaster. "We need that type of personality leading from the front in what will be a hostile environment."
A 2-0 series win, an outcome no England team has previously achieved in Argentina, would further boost Wood's credentials and Robshaw's starting place at openside could come under additional scrutiny if the uncapped Matt Kvesic makes a sufficiently positive impression. On the flip side, as Lancaster was quick to point out, allowing Robshaw, Chris Ashton, Danny Care, Toby Flood and Brad Barritt a breather could well prove beneficial next autumn when one or two significant decisions will have to be made. "Physically and mentally, a break will do them and England good in the long term," said Lancaster. "This time next year we're heading off on tour to New Zealand so this is probably the last rest they'll get. They're aware there'll be more competition for places next September but, ultimately, I made the decision and they all accepted it. I've been assured it won't harm their chances of being called up as replacements for the Lions tour."
While England may be without some familiar faces, a shortage of gas will not be among the concerns facing Lancaster. Rarely, if ever, has so much pace been injected simultaneously into any English squad, with the uncapped Christian Wade, Jonny May, Marland Yarde and Kyle Eastmond all picked to add some go-faster stripes to the sweet chariot.
Lancaster is fully aware his side scored just one slightly fortuitous try in their last four games of the Six Nations championship and has instigated what amounts to a sprint-off between his brightest young wingers. Wade, May and Yarde have all been leaving scorch-marks across Premiership pitches in recent weeks, while Eastmond's acceleration and ball-playing ability have earned the ex-rugby league player a place on his first senior union tour, along with the former Wigan Warrior Joel Tomkins.
It is Wade, however, who currently heads the chasing pack of wannabes, with Lancaster happy to mention him in the same breath as the great Jason Robinson. "You can see comparisons in the way he beats people. Every time he gets the ball there's a buzz of excitement around any ground." Eastmond will also be invited to unlock opposing midfields, while Yarde and May have been rewarded for their increasing consistency for London Irish and Gloucester respectively.
There are 11 uncapped players in total, with five of the 32-man squad aged 21 or under. Alex Goode will provide fly-half cover should anything happen to Freddie Burns, with Rob Buchanan and Henry Thomas among a fresh batch of front-row contenders. Neither James Haskell nor Anthony Allen were considered on fitness grounds, with Leicester's Thomas Waldrom overlooked in favour of Billy Vunipola. England will face a South American XV in Montevideo on 2 June, followed by Tests on successive weekends in Salta and Buenos Aires.
The International Rugby Board, meanwhile, has announced a full global trial for a new scrum engagement proposal aimed at reducing the number of collapsed scrums by 25 per cent at the top level. From the start of next season opposing props will be asked to bind before the packs engage and straight put-ins will, apparently, be strictly enforced.
England squad to tour Argentina
Backs M Brown (Harlequins), B Foden (Northampton), A Goode (Saracens), C Wade (London Wasps), J May (Argentina), D Strettle (Saracens), M Yarde (London Irish), J Joseph (London Irish), J Tomkins (Saracens), K Eastmond (Bath), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), F Burns (Gloucester), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), L Dickson (Northampton).
Forwards R Webber (Bath), R Buchanan (Harlequins), D Paice (London Irish), P Doran-Jones (Northampton), H Thomas (Sale Sharks), A Corbisiero (London Irish), J Marler (Harlequins), D Wilson (Bath), D Attwood (Bath), J Launchbury (London Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), E Slater (Leicester), C Clark (Northampton), M Kvesic (Worcester), T Johnson (Exeter Chiefs), T Wood (Northampton, capt), B Morgan (Gloucester), B Vunipola (London Wasps).
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