England Spring surprise with Dickson to start at no.9

by RUGBY.com.au staff

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has pulled a selection surprise naming Northampton No.9 Lee Dickson ahead of Lions star Ben Youngs in his team to face the Qantas Wallabies on Saturday (Sunday morning 1.30AEDT) at Twickenham.

Dickson's explosive start to the season has seen him win the race to partner Owen Farrell at flyhalf in what will be only his 10th Test appearance.

Youngs, who won two caps for the British and Irish Lions against the Wallabies in the summer, would have been the more experienced option but Lancaster has chosen the player in form.

Injuries to fellow Lions Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt mean 26-year-old Saracens outside centre Joel Tomkins will make his Test debut, partnering another Lion, Billy Twelvetrees in midfield.

"I'm delighted for Joel. He's had a great week's training and is ready for his chance," explained Lancaster.

"He has played in many high-profile games in his career so far and has a great temperament for the big occasion."

In another starting debut Billy Vunipola, brother of Lions prop Mako, has earned himself selection at No.8 after a bulldozing start to the season at Saracens.

The 1.88m, 126kg 20-year-old had edged out Ben Morgan with the Gloucester back row offering cover from the bench.

It will be Vunipola's first start for England and his Twickenham debut after winning two caps as a replacement during the summer tour to Argentina.

Wing Marland Yarde will also be making his first appearance at Twickenham after scoring two tries on his debut against the Pumas in June.

"Billy Vunipola and Marland Yarde made a big impression in Argentina and it's going to be a special occasion for them to run out at Twickenham in front of 82,000 passionate supporters for the first time," Lancaster said.

One of the toughest selection calls facing Lancaster was in the second row but when Geoff Parling suffered mild concussion during training on Tuesday afternoon, the decision was simplified.

As expected Joe Launchbury partners Courtney Lawes with Dave Attwood, who returned from a rib injury only last week, picked on the bench.

Mako Vunipola profits from Alex Corbisiero's knee injury to start at loosehead, while hooker Dylan Hartley and prop David Wilson have recovered from respective ankle and calf injuries to take their places on the bench.

Australia triumphed 20-14 at Twickenham last November and Lancaster is looking for a successful start to an autumn series, which continues against Argentina and concludes against New Zealand.

"We're looking forward to the challenge of playing Australia - they have made great strides under Ewen McKenzie and their new coaching team and they are formidable opponents," Lancaster said.

"It's eight months since we played at our home and we are looking forward to getting back there in what is a very important series for us two years out from the World Cup."

Lancaster insisted that his preference for Dickson over Youngs was based on form alone.

"Form has always been the over-riding factor for me, but Lee also has a lot of credit in the bank," Lancaster said.

"At the start of the season in a competitive position he's the one who's really shined. It's a competitive position but on form alone he deserves it.

"To be picked for this England team you have to be playing well and that's reflected in the selection."

Lancaster urged Lawes to take the initiative at the line-out after Parling was ruled out of the autumn opener.

"You lose a lot of experience with Geoff and I'm disappointed that he's injured," he said.

"But it's time for Courtney to come in and show his leadership in the line out."

Dave Attwood is match fit and adds ballast and size to our bench."

Tomkins is making his Test debut on Saturday and Lancaster is backing the dual code international to adapt quickly to Test Rugby.

"Joel's big-game temperament will shine through on the weekend," he said.

England to play Qantas Wallabies at Twickenham (Sunday Nov 3rd, 1.30AM AEDT)

15.M Brown (Harlequins)

14. C Ashton (Saracens)

13. J Tomkins (Saracens)

12. B Twelvetrees (Gloucester)

11. M Yarde (London Irish)

10. O Farrell (Saracens)

9. L Dickson (Northampton)

1. M Vunipola (Saracens)

2. T Youngs (Leicester)

3. D Cole (Leicester)

4. J Launchbury (Wasps)

5. C Lawes (Northampton)

6. T Wood (Northampton)

7. C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt)

8. B Vunipola (Saracens).


16. D. Hartley (Northampton)

17. J. Marler (Harlequins)

18. D. Wilson (Bath)

19. D Attwood (Bath)

20. B Morgan (Gloucester)

21. B Youngs (Leicester)

22. T Flood (Leicester)

23. B Foden (Northampton).