Lewis Moody: Stuart Lancaster has shown the courage of his convictions by picking on form not reputation and I’m pleased he went with Luther Burrell

 

Fair play to Stuart Lancaster. Winning a first cap playing against France in Paris is a huge challenge – I cannot overemphasise what a tough, incredibly hostile setting it is to go and start your international career. It’s physically and mentally one of the most imposing places to take your first steps, but you have to admire the choice Lancaster has made for the opening game of what is a big tournament for the England coach and his side.

It would have been easy for him to stick with the tried and tested, to have retained Chris Ashton, who has the experience and has not been playing at all badly at club level. And it would have been difficult to criticise Lancaster had he done that because this is a match that can shape England’s Six Nations. Instead, he has stuck to what he has always said he would and picked on form.

I have Wales as favourites for the tournament. They have had the form over the past two seasons, and the core of that team, the players who won with the Lions in Australia last year, are still around and have that experience to call on. It doesn’t help them having so many players in France – as it doesn’t help France having all those foreign players keeping their own out of action – yet Warren Gatland seems able to bring them back together pretty swiftly. But if England get a win under their belt in this first game they will be vying to take the title off the Welsh. Coming home from Paris with a victory is all important to Lancaster’s third Six Nations campaign.

In a back line that is set to have an average of 13 caps per man, Mike Brown, Owen Farrell and Billy Twelvetrees – none of whom is in any way a veteran – have a huge role to play in helping the young guys through, but England supporters cannot help but be stirred by the sight of three new backs on the field. What will they bring? How good are they?

The one that stands out for me is Luther Burrell. I can see him having a long-term future with England. He was unlucky not to start against New Zealand in the autumn as the pairing of Twelvetrees and Joel Tomkins did not work. Watching Burrell at Northampton, he has been one of their most consistent and influential players. He is a big, strong ball carrier but also has great offloading ability and a passing game. I do enjoy watching him and he thoroughly deserves his opportunity.

It’s a great chance for him and Twelvetrees to stake a claim for that centre pairing while Manu Tuilagi is out. England have been looking for an addition to the centre partnership that isn’t brawn for too long now. We need a Greenwood or a Catt-esque player and Burrell has those elements in his game that could make him that man.

A debut in France can be a formative experience for any player and it will be fascinating to see how young Jack Nowell and Tom May get on on the wings. My personal choice would have been to give Anthony Watson a run ahead of May. From what I’ve seen of him at Bath, he’s elusive, dangerous and has great footwork, while being stronger and faster than he looks. There were some concerns among the coaching staff about Watson fitting into the defensive structure England use, whereas May and Nowell have adjusted that little bit quicker. Watson’s only 19, though, and his time will come. He has the makings of a more complete player.

I’ve seen Nowell play more at full-back than on the wing – it is a position he is getting to grips with. The first thing that impressed me is his tenacity. He is a gutsy player. May has played consistently well for a couple of seasons now. He can sometimes run a bit too laterally instead of giving more go-forward, but in a side like Gloucester that haven’t been firing consistently all year he has still stood out. A lean, wiry individual, he may not look the part but he has that natural ability and is a tryscorer.

I am excited for these guys. They can stake a claim for 2015. Go back to 2003 and Josh Lewsey only came into the side for the Six Nations in the run-up to the World Cup – this is a chance for these guys to do likewise.

Choosing Danny Care at No 9 looks another bold choice by Lancaster. Lee Dickson is the safer player and was first choice through the autumn. But like Ben Youngs, Care offers more devil and more attacking threat – and that is what I would like to see from England over this Six Nations.

I want to see a total game from England, an all-round performance – not the forward-dominated, kicking game we have become used to. They have the backs with the ability to take teams on. England have a front eight that can deliver against the best in the world – they did it in the autumn against Australia and they did it against New Zealand. That eight will produce on the day and it is about continuing that through the set piece, the line-out, the scrum, and then finding the backs that can bring a full game together.

England have exciting players and they have to be put to use. My only issue is they haven’t a wealth of experience. Chris Robshaw has 20 caps, Tom Wood is similar; Dan Cole and Dylan Hartley are the two most capped. It is time for Hartley, in particular, to take a lead within the team.

England have set high standards after coming second for the last two years. Constant improvement is what Lancaster looks for. The title is what they are aiming for and this first game in Paris will give us a clear indication as to whether this will be England’s year.

What can we expect from France? Even by their unpredictable standards this side is an enigma. Philippe Saint-André has not been helped by their domestic situation, with too many players not getting enough game time. It’s like what Roy Hodgson must feel when he looks around the Premier League. They have had a poor run but played well in parts against the All Blacks and have some big players in the squad – Wesley Fofana is a match-winner and Louis Picamoles a tower of strength.

It’s a tough one to predict. There are so many unknowns surrounding a French side in transition but then they are at home and will be desperate to perform. Taking a deep breath… with a dominant pack and some exciting new backs, I take England by three. It will be a very, very big ask. They need to assert themselves as a pack, and as a back line they must make sure they are playing with the youthful exuberance. Don’t be scared to play because you are in a partisan, passionate environment – don’t let that stop you playing your own game.

Lewis Moody is a Land Rover HITZ ambassador. Land Rover are a partner of HITZ, a Premiership Rugby programme which tackles some of the greatest challenges facing young people today. www.jaguarlandrover.com/hitz/

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Arts and Entertainment
Ella Henderson's first studio album has gone straight to the top of the charts
music
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

Life and Style
fashion
News
Paul Nuttall, left, is seen as one of Ukip's key weapons in selling the party to the North of England
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand labelled 'left-wing commie scum' by Fox News
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
Arts and Entertainment
artKaren Wright tours the fair and wishes she had £11m to spare
News
i100
Life and Style
Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh been invited to take part in Women Fashion Power, a new exhibition that celebrates the way women's fashion has changed in relation to their growing power and equality over the past 150 years
fashionKirsty and Camila swap secrets about how to dress for success
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past