Stuart Lancaster is backing uncapped Fiji-born wing Semesa Rokoduguni – a serving soldier in the British Army – and new father Dave Attwood to rise to the challenge of tackling world champions New Zealand at Twickenham tomorrow.
Royal Scots Dragoon Guard Rokoduguni starts on the right wing for England’s QBE Series opener and his Bath team-mate Attwood takes his place at lock after his fiancée gave birth to their first child on Tuesday.
Rokoduguni, who has seen action in Afghanistan, has been rewarded for an outstanding start to the season at Bath. And Lancaster expects the 27-year-old to take his chance in the injury-enforced absence of Manu Tuilagi.
The head coach said: “He is very composed and calm. He’s dilligent, he’s done his preparation. He has been on our radar for a while and there are a lot of stats that say he is topping every category. I’m delighted for Roko. Wing is an extremely competitive position, but he has pushed himself forward with his form and it’s great to be able to give him this opportunity.”
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
Rokoduguni is one of three uncapped players in the matchday 23 with Bath team-mate Anthony Watson offering back-three cover from the bench and George Kruis of Saracens the second-row replacement.
Lancaster has no qualms about the inclusion of Attwood, one of seven Bath players in the matchday squad, so soon after becoming a dad.
“He’s got even more to play for this weekend now,” added Lancaster. “He’s absolutely fine. In fact the biggest worry would be if the baby hadn’t arrived yet and if that would have played on his mind.”
Danny Care and Owen Farrell form the half-backs with Farrell chosen despite only two starts for Saracens this season because of a thigh strain.
Farrell’s performances in training earned him his place ahead of George Ford, said Lancaster. “George has had a great season as well but Owen has been excellent in training. George will continue to push him and his opportunity will come at some point.”
Lancaster is upbeat about England’s prospects against an All Blacks side missing Dan Carter and with Sonny Bill Williams playing at inside centre.
“We are at home against a very high-quality team but we’ve got belief in our team as well.
“They are strong across the board, very experienced and with world-class players in a lot of positions.
“But it’s not dissimilar to the side we played in the summer, the side we played this time last year or two years ago and, on each occasion, we either won or pushed them close.”
For the All Blacks, code-hopping centre Sonny Bill Williams has been fast-tracked into the starting XV as coach Steve Hansen named virtually a full-strength team.
Williams, who burst back on to the international scene last week with two tries against the United States after two years playing rugby league, was the only real surprise.
Stand-off Dan Carter, who played for 30 minutes against the Eagles last week in Chicago in his first Test in almost a year, was not named in the matchday 23 to face Lancaster’s side as he continues to recover from a broken leg.
Hansen restored his first-choice pack with loose forwards Jerome Kaino and captain Richie McCaw returning to join Kieran Read after they missed the Eagles’ match while the entire starting tight five has changed from last week’s 74-6 victory.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS