England and Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell may have been refused entrance to an 18 certificate film on Wednesday night, but Stuart Lancaster insists he is part of an untested trio that is ready for the Stade de France.
Nowell and outside-centre Luther Burrell will win their first caps in Saturday’s Six Nations Championship clash with France, while Jonny May makes his second international appearance on the left wing.
It is a bold selection that Lancaster has based on “consistency, form and potential” and the head coach is convinced the three will enter a pivotal Championship opener in Paris with a mind-set unburdened by fear.
The three-quarter line contains only nine caps, eight of which belong to Billy Twelvetrees, and England’s willingness to give youth its head was evident at a cinema local to the squad’s Surrey training base 12 hours before the team was announced.
Arriving to watch ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ with Tom Johnson and Henry Thomas, 20-year-old Nowell’s lack of ID meant he was turned away.
“I was really excited to go. Tom and Henry got their two tickets and I paid for mine last, but the woman said, ‘sorry, I need to see your ID’,” Nowell said. “I checked to see the film was an 18 and not a 15 just in case! I didn’t have any ID on me so I had to go back to the hotel to get some.
“We had to watch the showing an hour later– with my passport in my back pocket!”
Lancaster highlights the dwindling number of games – 20 – left until the 2015 World Cup to explain his willingness to pick Nowell, Burrell and May against the favourites.
It is a risky approach to what is possibly the toughest fixture in the Six Nations, but Lancaster reckons inexperience also has its benefits.
“The upside is that they have no fear. There is no fear factor that sometimes can build during players’ careers in international rugby,” he said.
“Ultimately I’ve gone with my gut instinct which was probably formulated after watching training on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week.
“I had a bit of time to think about it over the weekend. Form, potential and consistency of performance in the Premiership and Europe have been factors.
“Leading up to our camp there was a lot of analysis that we did on the games, both objective analysis and in terms of stats. And there’s the subjective feel you have from what you’ve seen in the games.
“There’s the opinions of the directors of rugby whose counsel I trust. And then you come into camp and you get a feel for whether a player is ready. My instincts after the three days told me that Jack, Luther and Jonny were ready.”
Burrell has impressed throughout the season for Northampton, where he has been playing inside-centre, and starts ahead of Brad Barritt, who is included on the bench.
Nowell, the tackle-busting Exeter wing, has benefited from injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade to seize the number 14 jersey from the axed Chris Ashton.
Gloucester’s elusive runner May made his debut against Argentina during last summer’s tour.
“Luther has played exceptionally well for his club and has played in a Premiership final and big European games,” Lancaster said.
“Watching Jack against Toulon told me that he’s ready. He breaks tackles and beats defenders. Jonny is a great broken-field runner with good footwork and incredible pace.”
England: Brown (Harlequins); Nowell (Exeter), Burrell (Northampton), Twelvetrees (Gloucester), May (Gloucester); Farrell (Saracens), Care (Harlequins); Marler (Harlequins), Hartley (Northampton), Cole (Leicester), Launchbury (Wasps), Lawes (Northampton), Wood (Northampton), Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), Vunipola (Saracens). Replacements: Youngs (Leicester), Vunipola (Saracens), Thomas (Sale), Attwood (Bath), Morgan (Gloucester), Dickson (Northampton), Barritt (Saracens), Goode (Saracens)