Stuart Lancaster has backed his new-look side to cope with the loss of Saints full-back Ben Foden when England go head-to-head with Fiji, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand during the autumn internationals.
And he has hinted that Foden’s immediate future as an England player could be as a winger.
Foden, 27, required surgery this week to repair ankle ligament damage suffered during the Saints recent Aviva Premiership clash with Bath and now faces a fitness battle to stake his international claim during next year’s Six Nations.
Lancaster pointed to the form of Harlequins No.15 Mike Brown and Saracen Alex Goode, who both filled the England full-back jersey during the summer tour of South Africa, as a reason for optimism in Foden’s extended absence.
Since making his debut in 2009 – Foden has been a near ever-present in an England back three under former boss Martin Johnson and now Lancaster.
“Losing Ben is obviously disappointing from an experience point of view because he was in the leadership group with England,” said Lancaster, speaking at the BMW Academy launch in Reading.
“But equally obviously by moving him onto the wing in South Africa in the summer it allowed Mike Brown and Alex Goode to get an opportunity.
“He had to have his operation this week, so he is going to be out probably until Christmas.
“Beyond Christmas I am sure he will be back fighting for his place back in the side, get into the Six Nations and hopefully for him the end goal being on the Lions tour next summer, but it is one step at a time for him.
“Alex Goode and Mike Brown both played full-back in South Africa and both did extremely well.
“And there are still quite a few games to go before the autumn so we will see how it goes and formulate our plans nearer the time.
“The Aviva Premiership is the bread and butter for us as international coaches you watch every game every week, and you are always looking for the players who are consistently in form.
“People have one-off big games but it is those players who play well consistently. We have a lot of players in England to choose from and it is making sure we track them all and make the right decisions.”
Lancaster has backed the Northampton man to return to form and fitness after Christmas.
But he has also warned Foden he will face a fight to win back his England jersey from the likes of Brown, Goode and Bath’s Nick Abendanon, who has also caught Lancaster’s eye in this year’s Aviva Premiership.
“In terms of Ben Foden’s position we have got cover there and also Nick Abendanon is playing really well at the moment as well,” added Lancaster.
“The wider movement of Ben onto the wing means there is suddenly a wing spot up for grabs and we are monitoring the form and fitness of quite a few of the players.
“The general philosophy hasn’t changed in the backline as we need a balance of ball carriers, finishers and ball players.
“And how that jigsaw gets put together is still part of our ongoing discussions and it will unfold over the course of time.
“Mike Brown and Alex Goode are two, Nick Abendanon is also playing well at Bath, and so we have got good options at full-back Nick Abendanon is very much in my thoughts, one of many, there are plenty.”
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