England defence coach Mike Ford is adamant that the time is perfect to cut deadwood veterans from the side in favour of youth.
Ford is one of five selectors who have opted for 20-year-old Anthony Allen, debuting at inside centre and rookie scrumhalf Shaun Perry in favour of more experienced players for the Test against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Sunday.
“Do you go with the guys who have got 30 or 40 caps, but who, to be honest, haven’t done much for three years?” said Ford, speaking to the BBC.
“Or do you go with the younger guys in form? We’ve got to support them – it’s a gamble, but one we have to take.”
Ford said introducing young players to top flight rugby now was done with the view to ensuring that they would be accustomed to the rigours of Test rugby by the World Cup in France next year.
He added that they would be given the opportunity to establish themselves in the side and not be discarded, as was the case with a then 18-year-old Matthew Tait who was left in the rugby wilderness for a year after making his debut in 2005, if they struggled to adapt to Test rugby.
“Do we do what’s been done for the last three years and not really worked, or do we say: ‘These are the lads for the future and we’re going to put our faith in them’?” said Ford.
“We won’t know until they play – and not just one game, but several games. It’s a big ask to play in front of 82,000 at Twickenham and there will be nerves, but we can’t say: ‘Right, you’ve got one game and if you don’t play well you’re never going to play again.’
“If he’s a good player before his first Test, he’s still going to be a good player after it, regardless of what happens.”
The England selection committee consists of Ford, Brian Ashton (backline coach), John Wells (forward coach), Andy Robinson (head coach) and Rob Andrew (director of rugby), who all have a voice on selection issues. Ford explained that Robinson as ultimately responsible for the team that ran out but stressed that selection was largely a collective effort.
“Andy has the final say, and always will do,” said Ford. “We all give our views on the balance of the side, the way we want to play the game, which players fit into that style, which players are in form and so on.
“Everyone has their say, and Rob has a massive input. Most of the time we agree but there will be one or two positions where there’s a difference of opinion.
“We can’t come out of the selection meeting and say: ‘It’s not what I would have picked.’ We all want the same thing: to pick a side to win a Test match.”