ANALYSIS-Rugby-Exciting times ahead for youthful England

LONDON Wed Jan 11, 2012 4:20pm GMT

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LONDON Jan 11 (Reuters) - England cut their final ties to the glory days of 2003 and did their best to distance themselves from the debacle of 2011 as caretaker coach Stuart Lancaster ushered in the latest new dawn with a squad short on caps but long on youthful ambition.

Lancaster might have been appointed only for the Six Nations but he has taken drastic action in unloading a host of experienced players from a squad that now boasts nine uncapped players, another four with one appearance and little of the baggage came to weigh so heavily on their predecessors.

Mike Tindall, an MBE hero of the 2003 World Cup-winning team but the central figure in the off-field mayhem that accompanied England's 2011 campaign, slipped off the international scene with barely an eyebrow raised.

Tindall had originally been dropped from the squad for misleading the Rugby Football Union (RFU) about his nightclub antics in New Zealand and after being re-instated on appeal, Lancaster reopened the trapdoor at the first opportunity.

Sliding into international oblivion alongside him were Nick Easter and Mark Cueto, both into their 30s, while Shontayne Hape was also jettisoned five months after former coach Martin Johnson ridiculed reporters for daring to question his faith in the solid but unspectacular rugby league convert centre.

Although Tindall's exclusion was widely predicted it was perhaps indicative of Lancaster's determination to "draw a line in the sand" that it barely merited a mention when he announced the 32-man squad at junior club Leeds West Park.

The new coach had shifted England's temporary training base there in part to help them "reconnect" with the public who had become heartily sick not only of the endless problems surrounding the national team but by their rigid and often turgid performances when they did finally get on the pitch.

The retirement of Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson further emphasised the new-leaf nature of the squad, who will get their first taste of action away to Scotland on Feb. 4.

"It's about a new era for English rugby," said Lancaster, known throughout the game as a straight-talking northerner who has already shown a sign of the standards he now expects by dropping scrumhalf Danny Care for the Six Nations after he was caught drink-driving.

"We want to play a game that excites people," he added, which will be music to the ears of England fans forced for so long to endure, with the odd exception, some of the dullest fare served up in the name of professional sport.

NEXT GENERATION

Lancaster has seen the next generation closer than most in his role as head of elite player development and coach of the second-string Saxons team and if he is taking a risk with his wholesales changes, it is a calculated one.

"The new lads have proven themselves in big games for their clubs in Europe, the likes of Owen Farrell, Charlie Sharples these boys have played big games, Mike Brown is in great form," he said.

"I always felt that January 2012 was going to be a defining moment about where we were going in the future and hopefully with the selection that we've done we've picked a side that's exciting, talented and gets us back where we want to be.

"The best part of the job so far for me was phoning those new guys and feeling that energy down the phone. Now it's about channelling that energy and enthusiasm in the right way and getting ourselves on the pitch ready to go at Murrayfield."

With Toby Flood set to miss that game through injury Lancaster might buck his trend by starting with Charlie Hodgson at flyhalf but he will be surrounded by youthful enthusiasm.

Hodgson's Saracens centre partners Farrell, 20, and Brad Barritt could both make their debuts outside him while Harlequins fullback Brown is in line to add to the three caps he won in 2007-08.

Pacey winger Sharples is a probable starter for the first time as Chris Ashton suddenly looks a gnarled veteran on the other wing less than two years after his debut.

The back row will also have a new look with Tom Wood, favourite to take over from Moody as captain, one-cap Chris Robshaw and uncapped trio Calum Clark, Phil Dowson and Ben Morgan vying for a slot along with the surviving Tom Croft.

With places up for grabs all over the front five too - not to mention a coaching team hoping to make an irresistible case to be kept on permanently - it could be an exciting few months.

(Editing by Ed Osmond; to query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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