England rugby team: what is Stuart Lancaster thinking?
Nine changes and yet another midfield combination for Uruguay as England drop Sam Burgess and pick four fly-halves
Stuart Lancaster has made nine changes for England's final game of the Rugby World Cup against Uruguay on Saturday night, and chosen his fourth midfield in as many matches.
With England now out of the tournament after defeats to Wales and Australia, the under-fire coach has restored George Ford to the team and picked fellow fly-halves Colin Slade and Owen Farrell in the centres.
Winger Jack Nowell, scrum-half Danny Care and full-back Alex Goode (who can play at fly-half as well) are also in the backs. Among the forwards, Mako Vunipola starts in place of Joe Marler and James Haskell and Nick Easter replace Tom Wood and Ben Morgan in the back row.
Rugby league convert Sam Burgess, whose presence in the squad has become a major talking point, is not even in the match-day squad even though he started the game against Wales.
"The changes do not come as a huge surprise in light of England’s failure to progress to the knockout stages of the tournament," says The Guardian. But they offer little suggestion that England have a direction of travel for the future.
The midfield line-up of Ford, Farrell and Slade is England's fourth different selection in as many games and the fifth since the World Cup warm ups began.
During the Six Nations, the combination of Ford, Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph started every match. That appeared to be Lancaster's best line-up but they failed to click as England lost to France in their second warm-up game and the triumvirate was promptly dismantled even though there was no sign that the team had a settled replacement in mind.
This latest team does little to address the questions over England's future. "Lancaster has decided to opt for no fewer than four playmakers in his starting XV, while also pairing Ford and Farrell in the same starting line-up for the first time," says the Daily Telegraph.
"It does nothing to suggest that Lancaster has any idea of what his broader philosophy might be, or what constitutes his best line-up. But maybe most of the great English rugby public are past caring."
It is too little too late, adds The Times. "The horse has bolted and Stuart Lancaster will face questions as to why he did not field a team with the same bold attacking intent when England were still in the Rugby World Cup," it shrugs.