British & Irish Lions coach Andy Robinson believes his England World Cup wannabes have ‘a fantastic opportunity’ to make their mark during the two-Test series against Australia.
Most of the pre-tour attention has identified players Robinson left at home to recharge batteries before embarking on a gruelling build-up towards next year’s World Cup defence in France.
The decision to rest so many key individuals – absentees include Lions tourists Charlie Hodgson, Josh Lewsey, Mark Cueto, Steve Thompson, Danny Grewcock, Martin Corry and Lawrence Dallaglio – has set alarm bells ringing that England could suffer comprehensive defeats in Sydney and Melbourne.
Head coach Robinson insists a window of opportunity has opened, having travelled Down Under with a squad anxious to make its mark.
When England return home in a fortnight’s time, strong World Cup statements might have been made by the likes of Mathew Tait, Tom Varndell, Magnus Lund and recalled 34-year-old centre Mike Catt.
Any success story will be grasped by England’s new-look coaching team of Robinson, Brian Ashton, John Wells and Mike Ford, with Robinson wasting little time in throwing down the challenge.
"We are looking forward, not back," he said.
"The key message is that we’ve got 16 games now in 16 months to the next World Cup, and each player involved next Sunday has a fantastic opportunity to put their hand up for that.
"They need to show that ruthlessness we need to take the chance."
But while there is a considerable unknown quantity about England this summer, such a tag can also be pinned on Australia, who are preparing for life under their recently-appointed coaching triumvirate of John Connolly, Michael Foley and Scott Johnson.
It is in the forwards where former Bath coaches Connolly and Foley should make a mark, suggesting there will be no repeat of events at Twickenham last November when England reduced the Wallabies’ scrum to rubble.
"That game was still wide open going into the last 15 minutes at 19-16 until Mark Cueto scored late in the game," added Robinson. "What we have to do is to concentrate for the full 80 minutes.
"We knew the Wallabies would pick a strong squad that typifies what John Connolly and Mike Foley want to do with a big tight-five.
"We are preparing for a battle at the scrums and lineouts. You only have to look at the way Bath have performed in the last five years to know they (Australia) will be very effective defensively and they will have four or five jumpers in the lineout.
"Scott Johnson will also have a terrific influence on how Australia play. They will be tough and uncompromising when needed, but they will also play with width and flair.
"If we play like we did in the Barbarians game for the first 20 minutes, and make the same number of mistakes against Australia, they would be 20 points up. Mistakes will happen – it’s about how you react to that."