Lancaster left with headaches by string of wing injuries
Contrary to popular belief, the grim injury bulletin on the Northampton full-back Ben Foden will not affect the contest for England's No 15 shirt one way or the other.
Stuart Lancaster, the national coach, decided during the summer tour of South Africa that Foden's international future was on the left wing, hence the appearances of Mike Brown and Alex Goode as the last line of defence against the Springboks. Those two remain ahead of the field, although the twinkle-toed Nick Abendanon of Bath might upset the applecart if he continues to trip the light fantastic.
The wing position is much more problematic: as Lancaster continues his exhaustive round of Premiership visits, aided by Andy Farrell and Mike Catt, he will look closely at a number of candidates. That is the plan, at least, Unfortunately, those uppermost in his mind or are either injured, out of favour or performing a different role.
Charlie Sharples of Gloucester pranged his shoulder during the high-scoring victory over London Irish and has not been spotted since. David Strettle of Saracens? Nowhere to be seen. Jonathan Joseph of London Irish? Playing at outside centre, which is only reasonable, given that he is the incumbent Test No 13.
Of the left wings on duty in this weekend's league programme, three are foreigners – Vereniki Goneva of Leicester, Vasily Artemyev of Northampton, David Lemi of Worcester – and another three are England internationals with their red-rose futures behind them: James Simpson-Daniel of Gloucester, Mark Cueto of Sale and Tom Varndell of Wasps. Matt Jess of Exeter might be on a hot streak, but any blip he makes on the Lancaster radar is very faint indeed. James Short of Saracens? Not a runner. Nick Scott of London Welsh? Likewise. And while Bath's Tom Biggs is in the Saxons squad, no one seriously expects to see him scuttling down the Twickenham touchline in November.
Which leaves two men at opposite ends of the career spectrum: the long-serving Ugo Monye of Harlequins and the newcomer Marland Yarde of London Irish. Monye would be a sound bet, but given any sort of choice, Lancaster prefers to pick players who will not be pensioned off before the home World Cup in 2015. Yarde is 20, alarmingly quick and blessed with that great intangible commonly known as the X-factor.
"I expect Marland to blow things open on the England front pretty quickly," said Brian Smith, the London Irish rugby director. For the first time this season, someone at the Exiles might be in danger of getting something right.
Premiership: Weekend team news
Exeter v Saracens
Heavy fallers at London Welsh last weekend, Exeter confront the peripatetic Londoners tomorrow without a single capped player in their pack, thanks to injuries affecting Craig Mitchell and Tom Johnson. Saracens travel with a revamped starting line-up, supported by a quality bench featuring Schalk Brits, Steve Borthwick and Charlie Hodgson.
Gloucester v Wasps
Today's clash of the button-bright back divisions should suit those who like their rugby fast and loose. The England wing Charlie Sharples remains crocked so Gloucester give a first league start to Rob Cook. Wasps are without the impressive forward Joe Launchbury but have a useful fill-in: one James Haskell.
Leicester v Harlequins
The first meeting between these two since last season's Premiership final sees Leicester confining two first-choice forwards, Dan Cole and Thomas Waldrom, to the bench. The Londoners are at full strength up front, with Maurie Fa'asavalu back between the shafts, but have lost the impressive centre George Lowe to injury.
London Irish v Bath
If Bath, bolstered by the return from Springbok duty of the crack back-rower Francois Louw, run riot today, the Exiles could be the first team in Premiership history to cop four successive 40-point hidings. Keen to avoid the ignominy, they give a first start to the Ulster stand-off Ian Humphreys.
Northampton v Worcester
The England flanker Tom Wood is, by his own admission, some way short of optimum form, hence his demotion to the Saints bench. Courtney Lawes, a more likely candidate for autumn international duty, starts in the back row. Worcester have the substantial Fijian No 8 Semisi Taulava in their pack.
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