Lancaster puts faith in national pride to help his novices for Murrayfield ordeal

Dowson, Barritt and Farrell get England debuts – with five uncapped players sat on the bench

If an England team with three new caps in the starting line-up and a virginal quintet of international rookies on the bench suffer a record defeat at Murrayfield tomorrow – and they will have to go some to lose by more than the 27 points that a fiery band of pugilistic Scots managed in 1986 – it will not be for the want of patriotic fervour. All week, the coaching staff have been reminding the squad of their duty to the badge, the shirt and pretty much everything else in their kitbag. It is enough to push Alex Salmond close to spontaneous combustion.

"I've just received an email from someone listing every player to have represented England since 1871," said Stuart Lancaster, the caretaker head coach, yesterday. "We're talking about 1,300 or so over 130 years. That makes the new people picked for this game members of a very, very exclusive club, and that carries some responsibility.

"Alongside it, there is the responsibility to everyone who has helped each player on his journey: the schoolteacher, the first junior coach, the academy manager, the director of rugby. It's not just about you when you play for England, it's about everyone around you.

"What does the shirt mean to me? You can see it in the power of the nation's support when they get behind a successful England team. We saw it in Euro '96, we've seen it after an Ashes victory, we saw it in 2003 when we won the Rugby World Cup. The spirit that binds the English nation together at times like that is probably the most powerful force there is. What we have to do is harness it by giving the public a team they can cheer."

Lancaster was not draped in a flag of St George, though, and when he had completed his oration he was in no mood to make more of his brand of rugby nationalism – partly, perhaps, because he has much Scottish blood in his DNA and tasted representative rugby with that country's age-group teams. "There are mixed feelings amongst some of my relatives," he admitted, "although my mum is slightly biased towards me."

It has been clear for some time that when it comes to selection, the coach's own bias is towards in-form players blessed with the deep-rooted work ethic he so prizes. Yesterday, he made good on the deal by selecting Phil Dowson, the Northampton back-row forward who commands the greatest respect among his Premiership peers, for a first cap at No 8. Dowson will be alongside new captain Chris Robshaw (one cap) in a remodelled back row in which the blind-side flanker Tom Croft will play the greybeard role at age 26.

What is more, Croft himself will be asked to do things differently. "We want him going round the corner a bit more – to be a little more Lionsesque," said the coach, pointedly. Under the last, Martin Johnson-led regime, the Leicester forward's contribution with ball in hand was distinctly underwhelming, especially when compared with his rampaging performances for the Lions in South Africa three years ago. With workhorses like Dowson and Robshaw alongside him, Croft should find himself in a position to revisit the heights he scaled against the Springboks in Durban and Pretoria. That's the theory, at least.

As expected, Lancaster has gone heavy on the Saracens element outside the scrum, with the English champions' midfield – Charlie Hodgson, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt – picked en bloc. Outside them, the recalled wing David Strettle completes the one-club quartet. "Saracens play in a very particular style that suits them, but we'll be playing a little differently," said Lancaster, and sure enough he named the youngster Farrell at 12 and the South African exile Barritt at 13, rather than the other way round, à la Sarries.

In truth, it will not make a fat lot of difference. Farrell splits first-receiver duties with Hodgson whenever they play together, and Barritt will lead the defensive cavalry charge from inside centre whenever the Scots have a scrum put-in or a line-out throw.

If there was a surprise, it was in Lancaster's decision to gamble as heavily in his bench selection as in his starting line-up. More so, it might be argued. Ben Morgan, the Gloucestershire-born loose forward who, for all his talents, is as green as the Cotswold grass, could be on the field inside a minute, wondering what the hell and why – hardly an ideal situation, given the Scots' traditional strength there. Geoff Parling, who played alongside Dowson at Newcastle, is an intelligent lock and line-out connoisseur reminiscent of the former England captain Steve Borthwick. Yet he too is light on top-level experience, thanks in part to frustrating injury problems.

Rob Webber, the Bath-bound hooker from Wasps? Untried. Lee Dickson, the heart-and-soul Northampton half-back? Untested. Jordan Turner-Hall, the hard-hitting Harlequins centre? Wholly unfamiliar with the unique challenge of a Calcutta Cup game in Edinburgh. Lancaster could, perhaps should, have played a little safer by including a Lions hooker in Lee Mears or a World Cup scrum-half in Joe Simpson. But Lancaster is not interested in anyone's safety, least of all his own.

"We're looking to build a team for now, and for the future," he said. "If we're looking for the next Steve Thompson or Jonny Wilkinson or Nick Easter, we have to start somewhere. And while there are things we're building on from the recent past, this is a new start. This is game one."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower