If you can't beat them, recruit them. Martin Johnson, in his first official role as England's team manager, managed to avoid the Red Rose, red-faced two-Test débâcle in New Zealand, monitoring events from Leicester rather than Lancaster Park.
"I don't think there's a tougher task than going to play New Zealand away," Johnson, who led his country to success there in 2003 prior to winning the World Cup in Australia, said. "What did we find out? Some of the players stood up and competed well and I think we found out something about everyone who went on that tour."
Some the former England captain liked, many he didn't for the 32-man elite squad he named yesterday did not contain the names of 13 players who visited New Zealand. His verdict on the wretched mini-tour was "factored" in his selection. "We were beaten by a very good New Zealand team and we have to compete with them and become better." Dan Carter aside, the All Blacks did not have to produce anything extraordinary to whitewash England. There will be fresh contracts, including a new code of conduct following allegations of sexual assault against the "Auckland Four" which is the subject of an inquiry by the Rugby Football Union's disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett.
Johnson has promoted four uncapped players to elite company, two of whom, Riki Flutey, the Wasps centre, and Dylan Hartley, the Northampton hooker, are New Zealanders. The others making a potential breakthrough are Jordan Crane, a backrower from Johnson's old club Leicester, and Nick Kennedy, the London Irish lineout expert.
Flutey qualifies for England in September on residency grounds. He played age group rugby for New Zealand and represented the Maoris before moving to England. Aged 28, and operating at No 12 outside Danny Cipriani, he was one of the influential playmakers in the Premiership last season, helping Wasps to the championship after which he was named the players' player of the year by the Professional Rugby Players' Association. Cipriani won the young player of the year award.
Cipriani was beginning to look like a younger northern hemisphere version of Carter until he fractured and dislocated his right ankle playing for Wasps in May. Johnson has named him, not among the elite party but in the Saxons squad. The stand-off is not expected to recover until the winter and will almost certainly be a spectator when the Pacific Islands, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa visit Twickenham for Tests in November.
If Cipriani does not regard relegation to the Saxons as a vote of confidence, he is in good company but at least he is of an age to know he has a bright future. The same cannot be said of Mike Tindall, Ben Kay and Joe Worsley, three of the demoted. What makes less sense is that Michael Lipman, David Strettle, Topsy Ojo, Richard Wigglesworth and Nick Easter have also failed to pass Johnson's examination in New Zealand.
At least they will probably get a second chance. Charlie Hodgson, who was England's number one No 10 on the tour following Cipriani's injury, is not in either squad. A missed tackle in the first Test did for him. A month or so ago Hodgson was the recipient, at the Premiership awards, of the Golden Boot award. It has an unfortunate ring to it although the honour was for his goalkicking exploits with Sale.
It leaves Jonny Wilkinson, who is recovering from a shoulder operation, as the only specialist stand-off in the elite squad but Olly Barkley, Toby Flood and Shane Geraghty have all tasted life at No 10.
Leicester, who failed to win a trophy last season, are very much in Johnson's thinking and there are recalls for scrum-half Harry Ellis and flanker Lewis Moody, after injuries, and the stand-off Andy Goode who gets back up to Saxon strength. One of the most popular choices Johnson has made is that of Josh Lewsey, back in the elite for the first time since being mysteriously dropped after the World Cup. And the captain? Johnson has yet to make up his mind.
This is seen as the start of a new era for Johnson and England, not least because of an eight-year agreement between the RFU and the clubs dealing with increased access to the players for international duty. Excuses for failure are running out.
England squads: The best and the rest
Forwards: T Payne (Wasps), A Sheridan (Sale), M Stevens (Bath), P Vickery (Wasps), G Chuter (Leicester), D Hartley (Northampton), L Mears (Bath), S Borthwick (Saracens), N Kennedy (L Irish), T Palmer, S Shaw (both Wasps), T Croft (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), L Moody (Leicester), T Rees (Wasps), J Crane (Leicester), L Narraway (Gloucester).
Backs: J Lewsey (Wasps), M Tait (Sale), P Sackey (Wasps), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), T Varndell, D Hipkiss (both Leicester), J Noon (Newcastle), O Barkley (Gloucester), T Flood (Leicester), R Flutey (Wasps), S Geraghty (L Irish), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), D Care (Harlequins), H Ellis (Leicester), P Richards (L Irish).
Forwards: J Forster (Gloucester), J Hobson (Bristol), D Wilson (Newcastle), N Wood (Gloucester), D Paice (L Irish), A Titterrell (Gloucester), J Ward (Wasps), R Blaze, L Deacon (both Leicester), C Jones (Sale), B Kay (Leicester), G Skivington (Wasps), S Armitage (L Irish), T Guest (Harlequins), M Lipman (Bath), N Easter (Harlequins), J Worsley (Wasps).
Backs: N Abendanon (Bath), M Brown (Harlequins), M Banahan (Bath), U Monye (Harlequins), T Ojo (L Irish), D Strettle (Harlequins), M Tindall (Gloucester), D Waldouck (Wasps), A Allen (Gloucester), D Cipriani (Wasps), A Goode (Leicester), R Lamb (Gloucester), B Foden (Northampton), P Hodgson (L Irish), R Wigglesworth (Sale).Reuse content