Every England coach brings in their own players and caps youngsters for the first time, but by compiling teams made up entirely of new caps under each successive coach, we are able to see why some of them succeeded and why some simply failed.
Each side here tells a story of English rugby through the years.
Clive Woodward New Caps XV (1997-2004)
When Clive Woodward took over as England coach in 1997 he set about trying to revolutionise the way England played the game, and in doing so brought through many new players. In fact, with the exceptions of Martin Johnson, Neil Back, Lawrence Dallaglio and Matt Dawson, the entire World Cup-winning side of 2003 were all brought in to the set-up during Woodward’s era.
Andy Robinson New Caps XV (2004-2006)
When Andy Robinson took over as England coach following Woodward’s resignation back in 2004, he opted for evolution and initially capped very few new players. Yet the quality and depth of talent being produced by the clubs at this point was nothing like it is proving to be now.
By over-relying on older heads and prioritising winning over performance, Andy Robinson’s teams looked more like Woodward ‘A’ sides, but part of the problem was the lack of any sort of real talent coming through.
Compare Robinson’s ‘new cap’ XV to any of the others and you begin to see why England struggled for so long post-2003.
Mark Van Gisbergen
Brian Ashton New Caps XV (2007-2008)
Although only in charge of the England team for less than two years, Brian Ashton did bring through many young players and some are still playing for their country or pushing for recognition now.
But this team here is also reflective of the frustrating and difficult relationship between the clubs and country at this point, with Ashton having to rely on many second stringers due to scheduling conflicts between England’s tour to South Africa and the clubs’ involvement in domestic competitions.
Martin Johnson New Caps XV (2008-2011)
After England’s disappointing Six Nations campaign of 2008, former captain Martin Johnson – a man with no previous coaching experience – was brought in to try and help the side rediscover the kind of form that had won the country its first and only World Cup title five years previously.
Johnson brought in many young players, but also discarded a number of players quite quickly. Chris Robshaw earnt his first cap under Johnson in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2012 under Stuart Lancaster when the Harlequins flanker would win his second cap. Similarly, Mike Brown was dropped after the tour to New Zealand in 2008 and did not play for England again until the Lancaster era.
Both Steffon Armitage and Danny Cipriani made their debuts during Johnson’s time in charge, yet neither has gone on to become established international players – despite the form both have shown for their clubs in the past.
This side illustrates the improving work of the academies in England, but some players never achieved their potential at international level.
Stuart Lancaster New Caps XV (2012-2015)
Lancaster has had so many critics in the past, but most of the ‘new cap’ team here is still playing for England now. In fact, only Kieran Brookes, Calum Clark and Lee Dickson have had no involvement during the Eddie Jones era so far.
The former England coach had a huge impact in terms of the player base he brought through, but this side is also representative of the immense changes that have taken place in academy set-ups and the new partnership between the RFU and Premiership Rugby that is seeing both sides working together to produce literally hundreds of potential players for the national team.
Eddie Jones New Caps XV (2016 – )
Jones has only been in charge for just over a year, but in that time he has selected a number of young players, many of whom are proving pivotal to the current England team.
When one looks back to the sides of the Andy Robinson and Brian Ashton eras, one sees just how much things have changed in the country’s rugby landscape, which is one of the reasons why the side is now succeeding and producing such consistent performances.
*England Saxons representative
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
On this week’s Oval Office Podcast, Rob Henderson tells us about Ireland’s 12 potential Lions, Paddy Butler identifies weaknesses in the French game plan, Mako Vunipola discusses the challenge of facing Tadhg Furlong and historian David Toms relives Ireland’s 2007 clash with England in Croke Park.
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