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England, who the bloody hell are they?

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While Australia's injury crisis has forced Robbie Deans to blood 14 new players this year, England's Rugby World Cup disaster forced the RFU to blood a new coach, Stuart Lancaster, who has given 16 new players their first caps in just nine Tests this year.

LONDON: If you recognise half the faces in England jerseys that flash up on the screen five minutes before kick-off this weekend a friend would be well within their rights to suggest you get out more.

The side that beat Fiji five tries to two last Saturday was the most inexperienced starting XV that England had fielded in a decade, boasting just 215 caps between them, with a quarter of those collected by five-eighth Toby Flood.

That is half the number of caps (431) behind the Wallabies that lost to France the same day and proof, according to Australian hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, that experience counts for little in the Test arena.

"When they played against Fiji it seemed like the cohesion was really spot on, we're looking forward to a really tough outing, whether they're young guys or the old bulls, there shouldn't be any difference," Polota-Nau said.

While Australia's injury crisis has forced Robbie Deans to blood 14 new players this year, England's Rugby World Cup disaster forced the RFU to blood a new coach, Stuart Lancaster, who has given 16 new players their first caps in just nine Tests this year.

It's tough going for a visiting rugby journalist trying to size up the English threat. But even the local writers have been heard muttering "England, who the bloody hell are they?".

There is the new captain, Harlequins flanker Chris Robshaw, who takes nine caps' worth of experience into this weekend's clash, a cool 104 Tests shy of his Wallabies counterpart Nathan Sharpe.

Robshaw himself, in a profile published by London's Telegraph, conceded he had doubts about his preparedness for the England captaincy in the absence of injured hooker Dylan Hartley.

"It's what you dream of as a kid. To run out and captain your country, it doesn't get much bigger. I admit I had doubts in my mind, but only because I wanted it to go well," Robshaw said. "Fortunately, Stuart had his own plan and it has all gone rather well for me. So far."

Lancaster has taken a punt on more than just his skipper. He has also decided to draw extensively on expatriate players, including in the Autumn internationals squad six players born and raised outside the United Kingdom.

That is not a record high number by Australian or New Zealand standards but is certainly enough to constitute a ballsy experiment in parochial England.

There are rookie New Zealanders Mako Vunipola and Thomas Waldrom, who can count their England Test appearances on one hand. Vunipola, a prop whose father and six uncles all represented Tonga, moved to the UK more than a decade ago when his father Fe'ao Vunipola, signed with Welsh club Pontypool.

Waldrom, a Hurricane until signing with Leicester in 2010, qualifies on the RFU's three-year residency rule. The Tigers No.8 will earn his fourth cap if selected this weekend.

Lancaster is using South African talent as well. Lock Mouritz Botha washed carpets and stripped asbestos after moving to the UK eight years ago but worked his way up the premiership ranks and will reach double-digit Test appearances this weekend.

Durban-born Brad Barritt played for the Sharks but was recruited from Saracens on the basis his grandmother was born in the UK.

There is former Queensland schoolboys hooker David Paice, who moved to England 10 years ago last month, and England's highest profile overseas-born player, Manu Tuilagi.

Tuilagi, just 21 but already touted as a potential world-beater, grew up playing rugby with a grass-filled plastic bottle in a Samoan village before moving to England with his older brothers who made up the so-called "Tuilagi dynasty" at Leicester Tigers. He is the only one of the five Test-capped Tuilagis who chose England over Samoa, having arrived in the UK as a young teenager.

On the basis of last weekend's Test, Lancaster's gamble on youth and diversity has the potential to pay off big time. England is bracing for Australia, badly stung after their walloping at the hands of the French, but are high on confidence, if light on experience.

As Polota-Nau said: "We as players know that representing your country's just a special occasion and whether you have the experience or not shouldn't be a factor, it's whether you've got the heart."

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HIG 26vs WAR 19 Report Stats
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STO 19vs CHF 28 Report Stats
CHT 10vs SHA 27 Report Stats
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Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16vs LIO 20 Report Stats
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Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
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Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
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