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Phil Edwards predicts Stuart Lancaster will bring in youth to his Elite Squad

Phil Edwards - Phil Edwards Posted 8th January 2014 view comments

Phil Edwards says that Stuart Lancaster will bring in some young talent as he tweaks his Elite Players Squad.

We know that Toby Flood is off to pastures new and that really means the end of a pretty successful international career.

With him off to France, talk turns as to whether Lancaster will keep the 60-cap Flood or replace him. There is talk of Danny Cipriani playing well at Sale - he has the ability to open up defences and has improved his defensive game.

Watson: highly rated by Stuart Lancaster

Watson: highly rated by Stuart Lancaster

But the smart money is on George Ford. He seems to have an all-court game and he has a big future ahead of him. Anyone who saw the game between Leicester and Bath at the weekend will know how good he is at pulling the strings on the big stage. There is talk that Ford could make his international debut in the Six Nations off the bench and he is a really exciting prospect.

Getting the Elite Players Squad (EPS) right is a difficult balancing act for Lancaster. He has identified the core of players he wants for the 2015 World Cup so he does not want to make a lot of changes just for the sake of it. He wants his core players to have as much international experience as possible. Yes, he has to cover injuries but he has to make sure they are the right players who can step up.

He needs a squad not only to get through the Six Nations but also to go through to the summer and that means three Test matches against the All Blacks.

There will be no big changes, just a few nudges on the tiller.

When you spend a lot of time around the England camp, you pick up who they rate. Every now and then you will see them at a training session at Pennyhill Park. You will say "who is that" and then realise it is Anthony Allan of Bath or Henry Trinder. These are players who we know Lancaster and his coaching team like and rate.

X factor

Going back to that Leicester v Bath game, Watson was very good and could get the nod for the Six Nations due to injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade. Watson is a fullback/wing and while the fullback positions are pretty much settled for the World Cup, Lancaster is looking for players who have that X factor - George Ford has plenty of that and so has Watson.

Jonny May is another option for the EPS. Despite playing in a Gloucester side who have really lost their way, May still manages to catch the eye.

Kyle Eastmond also has the X factor but he has had a few problems and, like Cipriani, I am not sure Lancaster is prepared to take that gamble.

The midfield is still an issue and the good news is that Brad Barritt is back playing. He is not the most exciting playmaking No 12, but he runs England's defence and at times they have looked like they have really missed him.

Joel Tomkins is out injured but the general consensus is he didn't set the world alight in the autumn internationals. Luther Burrell could come in. He is playing so well for Northampton and has been mentioned in plenty of dispatches.

In the forwards England are very strong and when everyone is fit there is competition in every position. The big concern there though is Alex Corbisiero and when he will recover from that knee injury.

Prop Henry Thomas could be called up from the Saxons with doubts over Davey Wilson. Dan Cole plays an unbelievable number of matches and there is no point in him getting to the World Cup with a million caps and his understudy having none. So with Wilson's injury they may want to get Thomas in.

There is talk that Leicester lock Graham Kitchener may get the nod and Exeter flanker Tom Johnson may be recalled as cover. Johnson lost his place due to injury but is back playing very well and Lancaster rates him.

Lancaster is well aware that he has only 20 games before the start of the World Cup. This is not the time for casting the net too wide and trying out different things but he is not one for shutting the door on young talent like Ford and Watson.

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