Rugby: Gaskell handed Saxons armband

Sale back-rower James Gaskell will skipper an England Saxons side featuring five full internationals against the Ireland Wolfhounds at Exeter on Saturday.

Rugby News: James Gaskell

The 21-year-old, who can also play at lock and featured in last year's Churchill Cup success, leads the Red Rose second string for the first time as part of a side with an average age of just 24 years and four months.

Experience is provided in the form of World Cup squad members Delon Armitage and Matt Banahan, with props Paul Doran-Jones and Matt Mullan and Harlequins wing Ugo Monye making up the quintet of players with Test caps.

There are four Saxons debutants in the starting XV as Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns, Quins centre Matt Hopper, Saracens scrum-half Ben Spencer and Leicester number eight Thomas Waldrom are all rewarded for their impressive club form.

Harlequins hooker Chris Brooker and Gloucester back Jonny May will also make their Saxons bows if summoned from the replacements' bench.

Explaining his choice of Gaskell as captain, Saxons coach Jon Callard said: "He's a smart player, a real calming influence and he demonstrates his authority by his actions on the pitch.

"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 line-out, 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, make up a youthful half-back combination, but Callard has put his faith in the pair following their excellent recent displays in the Heineken Cup.

He said: "Freddie and Ben have 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 has been the conduit for lots of good things at Saracens.

"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."

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