HEAD COACH Stuart Lancaster believes his decision to switch Saints ace Ben Foden from full-back to left wing could benefit England ‘massively’ in tomorrow’s opening Test against South Africa in Durban.
And he revealed that England have been working on the switch for the past 10 days in training.
Lancaster has made what many see as a brave positional switch by pushing Foden out to the wing and bringing in Mike Brown at number 15.
Lancaster believes having two full-backs on the field will improve the team’s defences under high balls while both players also offer an adept kicking game.
The decision was hastened by a calf injury to wing David Strettle, but Lancaster had been considering the option since arriving in South Africa for the three-Test tour last week.
“Mike has had an outstanding season,” Lancaster said. “He brings a left-footed kicking game and great aerial skills along with Ben.
“Ben is obviously a great strike runner as well. He has been great about it and he can see the benefits of how this can open his game up.
“When you make these decisions there is an element that wonders how he will go in this situation but we have had 10 days together, and we have worked on it for those 10 days.
“Sometimes you have to make brave decisions and, from my point of view, it is the right decision for the team and it is going to benefit the team massively, hopefully.”
The pair will form a back three with right winger and former Saint Chris Ashton, who played full-back in his rugby league days with Wigan.
“It is a great opportunity to see them together and, if training is anything to go by, we should be excited by those combinations,” Lancaster said.
The England team for the series opener at Kings Park contains three other changes from the side which beat Ireland in the final RBS 6 Nations match in March, with one of those seeing Saints scrum-half Lee Dickson dropped to the bench.
Harlequins prop Joe Marler and Exeter flanker Tom Johnson come in for their debuts while Ben Youngs is preferred at scrum-half to Dickson.
Lancaster said it was a straight choice between Youngs and Dickson with Danny Care, back in contention after missing the Six Nations due to off-field issues, made to bide his time.
And it was Youngs’ late season form as Leicester reached the Aviva Premiership Grand Final that saw him get the nod.
Lancaster said: “Ben’s form certainly picked up post the Ireland game, right through to the end of the season, and I think just edged it over Lee.
“Danny Care has also come in as well, which is great for us, and a lot of those midweek guys have trained really well, pushing hard for selection.”
Dickson will be on the replacements’ bench along with fit-again Leicester fly-half Toby Flood, who has been out for the past month with groin and ankle injuries.
Youngs will partner Owen Farrell, who moves back to number 10 after starting at inside centre in the recent Barbarians match.
Also on the bench will be Dickson’s Saints team-mates Paul Doran-Jones and Phil Dowson, while Dylan Hartley starts at hooker.