England unleash Tuilagi
August 25, 2011
Tuilagi scored on his England debut against Wales © Getty Images
Martin Johnson has named a new-look midfield of Jonny Wilkinson, Mike Tindall and Manu Tuilagi for England's final World Cup warm-up international against Ireland on Saturday.
Wilkinson has reclaimed the fly-half role from Toby Flood just a fortnight before England's opening World Cup encounter, against Argentina on September 10. Tuilagi made a try-scoring debut against Wales three weeks ago and returns to the team in place of Shontayne Hape, with Tindall moving to inside centre.
Tindall, who continues as captain in the absence of Lewis Moody, will win his 72nd cap and draw level with Will Carling as England's most-capped centre. The team features six changes from the 19-9 defeat to Wales in Cardiff and provides the strongest indication yet of Johnson's first choice World Cup side.
Wing Chris Ashton will make his first start of the warm-up campaign after overcoming a foot injury, joining Ben Foden and Mark Cueto in the back three. Richard Wigglesworth starts again at scrum-half as Ben Youngs continues his recovery from a knee operation.
Moody and Youngs were the only two not considered due to injury. Steve Thompson continues at hooker alongside Andrew Sheridan, who will make his first appearance of the warm-up campaign after recovering from a shoulder operation, and Dan Cole.
Louis Deacon and Courtney Lawes pair up again in the second row, with James Haskell starting at openside flanker, where he played during England's Six Nations title-winning campaign. Tom Croft returns at blindside flanker with Tom Wood moving to the bench and Nick Easter continues at No.8.
"We expect a hugely competitive game in Dublin and it gives us the ideal run-out before we depart for the World Cup," said Johnson. "These warm-up fixtures have been valuable in terms of our preparation for the World Cup, giving players game time together.
"We are pleased to see Andrew Sheridan back in the mix after working hard to get back to full fitness and he, along with Chris Ashton, will get his first start since meeting up in camp. Mike Tindall captains the side and, as he reaches another milestone in the game, he further demonstrates the level of quality and experience he brings to the side as a player and leader."
At the other end of the scale, Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson is set to make his Test debut off the bench after being included in England's 30-man World Cup squad.
"We wanted to give Manu another game and Mike another game," Johnson said. "We're in a good position where we have lots of tough decisions to make. Game time is precious. That's the team we think is right for this week. It's the right team for this game and this opposition."
Asked whether Hape had been "dropped", Johnson said: "He's not been picked, but neither has Dylan Hartley and 15 other players. We're picking the right team for the opposition, what the game is and where we are, as we will throughout the tournament.
"Shontayne is a very consistent player for us. We value him. I've no qualms he'll perform. We trust all these guys. I'd take 29 (to the World Cup) if I didn't trust 30. I've got no qualms with playing anyone."
England team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday, August 27, as follows.
England: B Foden (Northampton); C Ashton (Northampton), M Tuilagi (Leicester), M Tindall (Gloucester, capt), M Cueto (Sale); J Wilkinson (Toulon), R Wigglesworth (Saracens); A Sheridan (Sale), S Thompson (Wasps) D Cole (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), C Lawes (Northampton), T Croft (Leicester), J Haskell (Black Rams), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), M Stevens (Saracens), S Shaw (unattached), T Wood (Northampton), J Simpson (Wasps), T Flood (Leicester), D Armitage (London Irish).
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September