England picks 3 new faces for 6 Nations opener
Updated: February 02, 2012, 08:18
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LONDON(AP) England will give three players their debuts in Saturday's Six Nations opener against Scotland, with interim coach Stuart Lancaster trying to balance the demand for instant success and long-term planning for the next Rugby World Cup.
In his first selection since taking over from Martin Johnson, Lancaster overhauled the lineup to pick Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt in England's first entirely new center partnership in a decade and handed a debut to 30-year-old No. 8 Phil Dowson.
Their inclusion took to nine the total number of changes to the starting lineup that stumbled to a 19-12 World Cup quarterfinal loss against France in Johnson's final match.
Despite a starting 15 boasting just 236 caps - fewer than Scotland's forwards and less than half the 501 won by the Scotland team as a whole - Lancaster said Thursday his selection was about more than just building experience for the 2015 World Cup in England.
"I don't think it's as simple as that,'' Lancaster said. "It's a team for now and it's a team for the future.''
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.
Chris Ashton, one of six players to start October's defeat against the French, has agreed to join Saracens next season but Lancaster said the London club's domination of the back line did not mean England will ape its style.
"We'll play differently from Saracens,'' Lancaster said. "We've got our own personal philosophy; it's not mirrored on anyone.''
Harlequins' Chris Robshaw will lead the side from openside in only his second appearance, while Mauritz Botha, the fifth Saracens player in the side, has only made one test appearance as a replacement and will start in the second row alongside Tom Palmer.
There are another five uncapped players on the reserves' bench.
"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, Ashton, Ben Youngs, Tom Croft, 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 before losing to France.
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 Croft. Scrumhalf Youngs, Ashton and fullback Foden 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.