Tuilagi could join Ashton on wing as Lancaster wields axe
Stuart Lancaster has not been afraid to wield the axe since succeeding Martin Johnson as England boss, but he has stopped well short of using a chainsaw. Until last night.
When the coach named a 24-man squad, one more than strictly required, for the contest with South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday, he left plenty of dead wood on the ground.
Three players who started against Australia last weekend – the Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples, the Exeter flanker Tom Johnson and the Leicester No 8 Thomas Waldrom – were dropped and released back to their clubs for this weekend's resumption of Premiership activity. Joe Marler, the Harlequins prop, would have joined them had he not already broken down with damaged knee ligaments.
As expected, two London Irish players recently recovered from injury – the loose-head prop Alex Corbisiero and the outside back Jonathan Joseph – survived the cull, and there is every chance that both will start against the Springboks. The other "newcomers" retained in camp were the Saracens lock Mouritz Botha, the Wasps back-rower James Haskell and the Gloucester No 8 Ben Morgan. Botha is the extra man, brought in as second-row cover for the bruised and battered Geoff Parling.
Joseph's position is intriguing: with only one specialist wing, Chris Ashton of Saracens, left in the party, there is a possibility that he will wear the No 11 shirt. The other contenders for that position are the Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi, who looks more like a wing every time he plays in midfield, and the Harlequins full-back Mike Brown. Many good judges would like to see Joseph play in his club position of outside centre, alongside the incumbent No 12 Brad Barritt, with Tuilagi deployed in the wider position.
Obliged to send "excess baggage" personnel back to their clubs under the terms of the agreement between the Rugby Football Union and the Premiership fraternity, Lancaster was bound to give something away in advance of tomorrow's team announcement. Nevertheless, he has been clever in playing this set of cards close to his chest. The precise make-up of the back division remains a puzzle and while Parling is a definite starter if fit, the race for the second locking roles is a close-run thing between the experienced Tom Palmer and the exciting youngster Joe Launchbury.
The Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth is free to face England after being cleared of a charge of gouging the Scotland outside-half Greig Laidlaw during last Saturday's win at Murrayfield.
Meanwhile, the Wales coach, Warren Gatland, back in Red Dragon mode after spending the last few weeks on British and Irish Lions business, has reacted to his side's demoralising defeat by Samoa by making five changes for the visit of the All Blacks this weekend.
Sam Warburton returns to lead the side from the open-side flank and he will be joined up front by the hooker Matthew Rees and the France-based lock Luke Charteris, who was one of the stand-out performers at last year's World Cup. Outside the scrum, there will be starts for Rhys Priestland at outside-half and Jonathan Davies at centre.
Mario Balotelli to Liverpool: Best memes as Twitter reacts to imminent £16m transfer
Manchester United transfer news: Louis van Gaal joins Arsenal and Chelsea in the race for Sami Khedira
Mario Balotelli takes 50 per cent pay cut to join Liverpool as Samuel as Eto’o waits in the wings if deal falls through
Crystal Palace next manager latest: Palace consider Ally McCoist - EXCLUSIVE
Click here for the full story." title="When a youngster asked for an autograph outside Manchester City's training ground, Balotelli demanded to know why the boy was playing truant. After the child revealed he was being bullied, Balotelli drove the boy and his mother to the school in question so he could tackle the bully himself. He demanded to see the headmaster to make him aware of the issue and then mediated between the two boys to resolve the problem. A source said: 'Mario feels strongly about bullying.' Click here for the full story." width="88" height="52" />Mario Balotelli: The funniest stories
- 1 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 2 West poised to join forces with President Assad in face of Islamic State
- 3 Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for pageant
- 4 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 5 Pamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals: 'Mice had holes drilled into their skulls'
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile