Six Nations tournaments always begin in the dark depths of winter, but as far as England are concerned, spring is already in the air. Stuart Lancaster and Graham Rowntree, part of the caretaker coaching team charged with guiding the side through the competition following the collapse of Martin Johnson's ill-conceived management regime, spoke yesterday of "fresh starts" and "new brooms" and could barely contain their enthusiasm.
So, whatever the shop-soiled red-rose army are lacking come the opening match with Scotland at Murrayfield next month, they will not be short of a feel-good factor.
A number of older players, widely assumed to include the Gloucester centre Mike Tindall and the Sale wing Mark Cueto, have been told their services are no longer required. Nick Easter, the Harlequins No 8, could also miss out when the new elite squad is confirmed in six days' time.
Here, at the start of another World Cup cycle, come Owen Farrell and Charlie Sharples, among other bright young things. Freshness is the theme. The Rugby Football Union has been cleaning the stables for several weeks, having wasted nine years since the 2003 World Cup win filling them with its own dung. The same spirit is abroad in and around the England organisation. As Lancaster said during a briefing at Loughborough University, it is time for the likes of Toby Flood, Ben Youngs and Tom Croft to stand up and be counted. "They're experienced players now," the head coach remarked.
It would be wrong to think that everyone over the age of 27 is about to be drummed out of international rugby. "There certainly won't be a cull," Lancaster insisted. "We do, however, want to give opportunities to people who perhaps haven't had them in the past.
"We need a clear philosophy in the coaching group as to how we want to play and, equally importantly, how we're looking to take the squad forwards. Secondly, we want to develop a style that allows people to express themselves – to give them a framework in which they make decisions and take responsibility."
Not that the preparation will be wholly without hassle. Injuries are already kicking in: two Leicester players, the lock Louis Deacon and the centre Manu Tuilagi, are crocked, as is the Northampton forward Courtney Lawes. Deacon and Tuilagi both have hamstring trouble: the former may miss the entire Six Nations, the latter is struggling to make the Edinburgh date.
Lawes, meanwhile, has a knee problem and is expected to be out for weeks rather than days.
Balanced against that is the sudden appearance of the powerful Bristol-born No 8 Ben Morgan, who might have committed himself to Wales after playing all his top-level rugby in Llanelli with the Scarlets regional team but has opted for England instead.
"It's fantastic news," said Rowntree, who will be in charge of preparing the England pack. "We've been watching him for a year now and we're delighted he's on board. He's athletic and he's a big ball-carrier with good collision skills. We're looking to get him involved very quickly."
Five-star comfort is a thing of the past for the England squad. Martin Johnson held his training camps in Portugal – Lancaster's will be at the West Park club in Leeds.
"I want to see us reconnecting with the game," Lancaster explained. "I feel we've lost that slightly."
Rowntree declared: "The slate's clean. The World Cup is over and we're starting again. This is a new beginning for us."Reuse content