Semesa Rokoduguni, the Fijian-born wing who has been the talk of the town at Bath since the start of the season, and two other uncapped players - Anthony Watson, a back-line team-mate of Rokoduguni’s, and George Kruis, the young Saracens lock - were last night confirmed as part of the red-rose equation for this weekend’s deeply demanding set-to with the All Blacks at Twickenham. Rokoduguni will start, while the others are on replacement duty.
It is a remarkable rise to sporting fame for the serving soldier from the South seas, but the most eye-catching aspect of the bulletin from the England camp was the omission of two regulars in Billy Twelvetrees, the Gloucester centre, and Alex Goode, the Saracens full-back. As they are routinely counted among the most gifted footballers in the country, their fall from grace will not please those who yearn for a closing of the national team’s creativity deficit – a deficit that could become obvious to everyone if the world champions really hit their straps on Saturday.
It seems Watson, long viewed by the head coach Stuart Lancaster as a serious contender for World Cup duty next year, will cover full-back and both wing positions. His familiarity with the No 15 role meant that Marland Yarde of Harlequins, a first-choice wing in recent times, also made the “misery trip” home to his club after yesterday’s double training session in Surrey.
By doing away with the distribution and kicking skills shared by Goode and Twelvetrees, the England hierarchy are taking a significant risk. Certainly, their absence places a heavy weight on the shoulders of Owen Farrell, the senior outside-half: neither Kyle Eastmond nor Brad Barritt, the new centre pairing, are noted for their ability when it comes to putting boot to ball.
Farrell has played precious little rugby of late: a strained quad muscle suffered during a Premiership match in September restricted him to just four minutes of rugby in a month, and his comeback performance in a European Champions Cup match for Saracens against Munster in Limerick a little under a fortnight ago suggested he was some way short of optimum condition. He was, however, fairly bristling with confidence yesterday.
“I wanted to play a fair bit earlier than I did and I think I could have done so,” he said. “But even though I had to wait for the Munster game, I was able to keep up with my skills work. I’m not good during the build-up to games I’m missing, but I get very involved when the matches are actually being played. Sometimes, the chance to watch other players making decisions and thinking through what I’d have done in the same circumstances can be more instructive than taking part in a training session. Am I ready for international rugby now? Yes, definitely.”
Farrell played down the disruptive effects of playing in England midfield combinations that seem to change every five minutes. “I couldn’t put a timescale on how long it takes to settle into a new formation, but the important thing is that we’re together a good deal off the field and we’re always pushing each other and dragging each other along,” he said. “We’re particularly hot on the fine detail, the little things, and I think that will pay off.”
Dave Attwood, inked in as the second-row replacement for the injured Joe Launchbury, left camp yesterday to be with his fiancee, who went into labour with their first child. The coaches were sufficiently confident that the Bath lock would be back in time for the match that they released Graham Kitchener of Leicester for club duty.Reuse content