Sport Rugby

Thursday 22 February 2018

Lancaster dangles the carrot

Mick Cleary

The hand of Stuart Lancaster can be seen in the Saxons selection named to face Ireland Wolfhounds, with two recent rugby league imports – Saracens' centre Joel Tomkins and Bath's Kyle Eastmond – featuring in the squad.

Tomkins starts in the centre in a team featuring six capped players and led by Leicester No 8 Jordan Crane. Eastmond is on the bench but is sure to see action as England look to integrate both players into the international set-up.

There are five Saxons debutants, including fly-half George Ford, Wasps' Elliot Daly and Saracens forwards Will Fraser and George Kruis.

Five players from the Saxons team of a year ago – Tom Johnson, Mako Vunipola, Billy Twelvetrees, Freddie Burns and Joe Launchbury – have progressed through to the senior ranks. How long before Tomkins and Eastmond follow suit?

"The faces that go on to higher places, that's the carrot for all these guys," said Saxons head coach Jon Callard. "Stuart sits on top of the coaching management team and we're the custodians of his plans.

"There is very much joined-up thinking as far as the England set-up goes. It's driven by Stuart and rightly so.

"What we want to see in these players is whether they've got the character to go on to the next level. The Saxons is seen as one of the tributaries flowing into the mainstream."

Tomkins (25) is slightly further down the road to full honours. "Joel has got the ability to go on," said Callard. "He's big, very powerful, is a strong ball-carrier and has a good off-loading game."

Tomkins admits that the lure of international rugby was one of the prime reasons for his decision to leave Wigan, where brother Sam still plays.

"That's definitely what drew me across," said Tomkins who signed for Saracens in late 2011.

"Last season was a bit of a struggle. I did question whether I'd done the right thing. This season my game has come on leaps and bounds."

Eastmond (23) joined Bath from St Helens at around the same time but was hampered by a groin and hamstring injury.

This season has been far more productive, his jack-knife running, reminiscent of Jason Robinson, seeing him score some terrific tries.

Bath have used him primarily at centre and wing and England see his future in the back three. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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