Flood and Wilkinson to face France
October 6, 2011
Johnson on playing Flood and Wilkinson%]
Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood will both start England's Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with France at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
The under-fire Wilkinson retains the No.10 shirt while rival fly-half Flood earns a surprising promotion into the starting line-up as a replacement for inside centre Mike Tindall who is still battling back from a dead leg suffered during England's 16-12 victory over Scotland last weekend. The move may come as a shock to some as the vast majority of Flood's 45 caps have been won at fly-half but he finished the 2007 World Cup final at No.12 and he played the entire 2008 Six Nations in the position.
Tom Palmer takes over from Courtney Lawes in the second row after making an impressive impact off the bench last time out and Nick Easter has been preferred to James Haskell at No.8. Mark Cueto, who was dropped for the Scotland game after scoring a hat-trick against Romania, returns on the the wing after Delon Armitage was suspended. Lawes and Haskell feature among five forwards on the bench, with Richard Wigglesworth and Matt Banahan covering the back division.
Wilkinson and Flood have started only one Test together since Martin Johnson took charge - against Wales in the opening game of the 2010 Six Nations, when Shontayne Hape and Riki Flutey withdrew at short notice. But the England boss insists he had no reservations about pairing them together this weekend and shunning the more likely options of Hape and Matt Banahan.
"It's an exciting combination for us," Johnson said. "It gives us Toby's kicking game, Toby's passing game. He's a pretty experienced Test player now, 40 plus caps. He's been playing well. It does give us some different things that we can do on the field when we play those guys (Flood and Wilkinson).
"It's not a gamble. You always put a lot of thought into your selections, no more so than when you're in a World Cup quarter-final. It's one of the options we've got. I think Mike and Manu (Tuilagi) have played well together. If we had to play Shontayne; there's always an argument to play him. Mike took a couple of bangs last week and hasn't really been available to us this week. That was part of the equation - Mike's injury and Toby playing very well."
Easter missed England's victories over Georgia and Romania with a back injury and returned to the squad last week off the bench. Johnson admitted the starting No.8 call was the toughest of the lot. "I said in front of the team that it's a particularly hard call on James. He didn't deserve it in terms of how he's played," said Johnson.
"But they will have a massive influence on the game. I've said this before. The guys on the bench are normally on the field at the end. Everyone wants to start, we all know that, but actually your role is no less coming off the bench."
France appear to be in a state of disarray, with the coach and players openly criticising each other, but Johnson refused to believe that will work in England's favour. "When you get to these games you're dealing with a team with a huge amount of pride as individuals, because you don't become a good player without that," Johnson said. "They've got pride in their team and country as we do in ours.
"They'll come and play, without a doubt. You watch the Tonga game, there's times when they're a missed pass, a dropped ball away from breaking open and games can change very quickly on that. They are key moments in matches.
"They are very dangerous, no more so than when they're written off when they haven't got anything to lose. In 1999 and 2007 when they beat New Zealand they were actually at the point when they didn't have anything to lose. They were behind in the game and they've gone for it and we know what happened.
"We can only control ourselves at this point. We've got to get tempo into the game. We didn't do that last week. We let Scotland get the initiative early on. We were 12-3 down and came back to win it, win the second half 13-3. We really need to be just that little bit better in the first 20 minutes and give ourselves a platform to go on from instead of fighting back from."
England: Ben Foden (Northampton Saints); Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints), Manusamoa Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks); Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Matt Stevens (Saracens), Steve Thompson (London Wasps), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers), Lewis Moody (Bath Rugby, capt), Nick Easter (Harlequins)
Replacements: Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Simon Shaw (Unattached), James Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Matt Banahan (Bath Rugby)
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