Stuart Lancaster has responded to Saturday's frustrating defeat by South Africa by backing his captain, Chris Robshaw, and promoting Owen Farrell to the starting line-up to face New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday. Robshaw has been told his job is safe for the moment, while Farrell will replace the injured Toby Flood at No10.
Both decisions reflect Lancaster's belief that his England squad are not a million miles away from a significant victory, despite the fierce debate over Robshaw's leadership in the tense closing moments of the 16-15 loss to the Springboks. Players and coaches alike have reassured the Harlequin flanker they still have total faith in him, although Lancaster will not confirm his Six Nations captain until late January.
Robshaw has admitted he found it hard to sleep after Saturday's game as he pondered his 78th-minute decision to go for the posts with England trailing 16-12, rather than kicking for the corner. Lancaster now acknowledges it was a flawed call but has been unimpressed by the amount of flak Robshaw has received. "The players are ultimately disappointed we didn't make it work for Chris because he is the one who has been given the blame and it's unfair in our opinion," said Lancaster. "Games are never won and lost on one moment and we stand behind him. It was not black and white. Either decision could have won the game."
The England management also point out Robshaw was his side's top tackler and top carrier against the Boks, and hit more breakdowns than anyone else. "I don't know any leader who gets every decision 100% right," continued Lancaster. "All you can do is do what you think is the right thing. If you don't get it right, you put your hand up, you learn and you move on. I am not concerned we have a split or a leadership dynamic that is causing me problems as a coach."
The Springbok result has guaranteed England will be in the second tier of seeded nations at next week's Rugby World Cup pool draw in London even if they defeat New Zealand at Twickenham. The All Blacks are unbeaten in 20 games but England are likely to select a largely unchanged side with Farrell at No10 rather than the in-form Freddie Burns of Gloucester. Flood has strained a toe ligament in his kicking foot and is a definite non-starter.
The uncapped Burns can expect to make his debut off the bench instead, with Lancaster believing there is insufficient time this week for a new fly-half to learn all the calls. "Owen has a lot of credit in the bank from what he achieved for us in the Six Nations," said Lancaster. "He had a long, hard season last season but I don't think his form dropped off quite as dramatically as people made out."
Alex Corbisiero will not train before Thursday but England insist he will be fit for a game which lock Geoff Parling sees as winnable. "We're going to play to win, not just give it a go," insisted the Leicester lock forward.
Wales expect the New Zealand hooker Andrew Hore to be given a long suspension when he appears before a disciplinary committee on Wednesday charged with felling Bradley Davies from behind at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © shimgray