England picks 3 new faces for 6 Nations opener
Updated: February 02, 2012, 06:08
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LONDON(AP) England will give three players their debuts in Saturday's Six Nations opener against Scotland, with Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt forming an entirely new center partnership in an overhauled lineup.
Farrell and Barritt are two of four Saracens players among the backs, with David Strettle recalled to the left wing and Charlie Hodgson restored to flyhalf for his 37th appearance and first start in four years.
Northampton's Phil Dowson was the other new face picked by coach Stuart Lancaster on Thursday and will make his debut aged 30 at No. 8, with Harlequins' Chris Robshaw leading the side in only his second appearance from openside.
Lock Mauritz Botha, the other Saracens player in the side, has only made one test appearance as a replacement and will start alongside Tom Palmer, while there are another five uncapped players on the reserves' bench.
The 15 starters going for England's first win at Murrayfield since 2004 have a total of just 236 caps between them, fewer than the Scottish forwards alone. The Scotland team as a whole boasts 501.
"We have been impressed with how the whole group has come together in the last 10 days and we have done a lot of work on and off the field,'' Lancaster said. "Now is the time to turn all that into a performance against Scotland that we can all be proud of.
"It is a massive challenge - Murrayfield, the first game of the Six Nations - but one we are relishing.''
Only eight members of England's unsuccessful Rugby World Cup squad - Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Ben Youngs, Tom Croft, Tom Palmer, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley and Alex Corbisiero - make it into the starting lineup following a campaign in which the team labored through the pool stage and was beaten by France in the quarterfinals.
Mike Tindall is among those dropped, Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson have retired, and Toby Flood, Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi are injured.
The front row of Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley and Alex Corbisiero all survive from the tournament, as do Palmer and blindside Tom Croft. Scrumhalf Ben Young, wing Chris Ashton and fullback Ben Youngs are the other veterans from the World Cup squad.
The 20-year-old Farrell is picked at inside center, a position that has proved problematic for England since the retirement of 2003 World Cup winner Will Greenwood seven years ago.
Tindall and Shontayne Hape were both criticized by commentators and fans for the lack of guile in the role, while Flood played there outside fellow flyhalf Wilkinson in the dismal 19-12 loss to France.
But Barritt can also play at No. 12, so he and Farrell could switch roles during the game.
Hodgson, the most experienced player in the squad in terms of appearances, kicked 34 points in a 44-point haul on his debut against Romania in 2001 but Farrell is widely reported to have been handed the kicking duties against Scotland - leaving Hodgson to concentrate on directing play behind the scrum.
England: Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, David Strettle, Charlie Hodgson, Ben Youngs, Phil Dowson, Chris Robshaw, Tom Croft, Tom Palmer, Mauritz Botha, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Alex Corbisiero. Reserves: Rob Webber, Matt Stevens, Geoff Parling, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, Jordan Turner-Hall, Mike Brown.