Gaskell to lead England Saxons against Ireland

Twenty-one-year-old James Gaskell will lead England Saxons for the first time against the Ireland Wolfhounds at Exeter on Saturday.

Gaskell captained Sale Sharks last season and leads a side with an average age of just 24 years and four months at Sandy Park.

It includes senior internationals Delon Armitage, Matt Banahan, Ugo Monye, Matt Mullan and Paul Doran-Jones in the starting line-up.

Centre Matt Hopper, half backs Freddie Burns and Ben Spencer, and No. 8 Thomas Waldrom feature for the Saxons for the first time with more newcomers on the bench in the shape of hooker Chris Brooker and wing Jonny May.

“It is a new era for us, there’s a lot of youth and energy in this squad and we’ll go into the game with a ‘no fear’ attitude,” said England Saxons coach Jon Callard.

“We want to see the players express themselves and at the same time develop the streak of pragmatism you need to win big games. We’ve seen in Europe the strength of Irish rugby at the moment but the challenge motivates and excites us.”

Callard paid tribute to Gaskell, who appeared in all last year’s Churchill Cup games, scoring a try in the final victory over Canada, and the Saxons’ other on-field leaders.

“He’s a smart player, a real calming influence and he demonstrates his authority by his actions on the pitch,” he said.

“He’s the leader of a group of leaders and we want to promote individual responsibility. For example Paul Doran-Jones runs the scrum, George Robson the lineout, Freddie Burns and Ben Spencer will control the tempo, and Delon Armitage brings his vision and authority at full back.”

Burns, 21, and Spencer, 19, form a young half back pairing – Spencer is part of the current England Under 20 set-up – but both have demonstrated their big game temperament this season in the Aviva Premiership and the Heineken Cup for Gloucester and Saracens respectively.

“It’s brilliant to be able to select them,” said Callard. “They’ve displayed a maturity beyond their years this season and their recent performances for their club sides show they deserve their chance. “

“Freddie was terrific against Toulouse following a run of good games and Ben’s been the conduit for lots of good things at Saracens.”

England Saxons

15 Delon Armitage (London Irish) , 14 Ugo Monye (Harlequins) , 13 Matt Hopper (Harlequins) , 12 Billy Twelvetrees (Leicester Tigers) , 11 Matt Banahan (Bath Rugby) , 10 Freddie Burns (Gloucester Rugby) , 9 Ben Spencer (Saracens) , 1 Matt Mullan (Worcester Warriors) , 2 Joe Gray (Harlequins) , 3 Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton Saints) , 4 Matt Garvey (London Irish) , 5 George Robson (Harlequins) , 6 James Gaskell (Sale Sharks, captain) , 7 Andy Saull (Saracens) , 8 Thomas Waldrom (Leicester Tigers)

Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker (Harlequins), 17 Rupert Harden (Gloucester), 18 Kearnan Myall (Sale Sharks), 19 Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs), 20 Paul Hodgson (London Irish), 21 Ryan Lamb (Northampton Saints), 22 Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby).

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