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Richards insists Easter deserves his chance
PA Sport
February 6, 2007

Dean Richards has saluted new England flanker Nick Easter as Harlequins' "form player for the last two seasons" following his shock RBS 6 Nations Championship call-up.

Ex-Orrell forward Easter, 28, replaces Joe Worsley - who has not fully recovered from a neck injury which forced him off during England's 42-20 Calcutta Cup victory over Scotland three days ago.

While head coach Brian Ashton expects Worsley to be available for selection when England tackle tournament favourites Ireland in Dublin later this month, Easter has been handed a golden opportunity for Italy's Twickenham visit on Saturday.

Easter has made more than 70 appearances for Quins and twice won the club's player-of-the-year award.

"I am delighted Nick has been called up to the senior squad, because he has been the form player at Quins for the last two seasons," said the club's rugby director Richards.

"He came late into Premiership rugby but he has done extremely well and fully deserves his chance."

Ashton added: "I would like to congratulate Nick on his first cap for England.

"He has had a very good season in the Guinness Premiership and he played in the successful England Saxons side that beat Italy last Friday.

"Joe Worsley wasn't considered because he has not fully recovered from a neck injury he sustained on Saturday, but we believe he will be fit and available for selection for the Ireland game."

As Easter contemplates a Test debut, though, full-back Iain Balshaw faces D-day tomorrow in his battle to overcome a groin injury.

Balshaw missed the Scotland game after being hurt during a training session three days beforehand, making way for Gloucester colleague Olly Morgan, who won his first cap.

Ashton said: "I thought Olly Morgan did a good job on Saturday, especially considering he was called in at such short notice, but I have gone for Iain's greater experience at international level.

"Iain will train on Wednesday and if he comes through that session and shows that he has recovered from his groin injury then he will start. If he doesn't, I will recall Olly."

Jonny Wilkinson, meanwhile, is set to become the most prolific marksman in Five or Six Nations rugby history on Saturday.

Wilkinson is locked on 406 championship points with former Wales star Neil Jenkins - although the Newcastle fly-half has arrived there in considerably quicker time, taking just 26 Tests since making his debut as a replacement against Ireland almost nine years ago.

Wilkinson's stunning comeback in the Scottish romp - his first England appearance since the 2003 World Cup final - eclipsed the previous Calcutta Cup individual points record of 24 set by Rob Andrew.

But the impact of his return did not surprise his Newcastle mentor Steve Black, the Falcons' fitness and conditioning coach.

"As always, Jonny has invested a huge amount of time and dedication into coming back better than ever - and I think the results of that were evident against Scotland," said Black.

"People say he has played only a small number of games since the World Cup, but in his head he has played thousands.

"Visualisation plays a big part in the work we have done and while he might not have been out on the pitch as much as he would have liked in the last few years, the work has been getting done behind the scenes and the drive is stronger than ever.

"From the moment he was passed fit by the medics, there was never any doubt in my mind that he was ready to come straight back on the pitch.

"In fact, it is the safest and the best place for him. He will only get better - in my opinion, he won't peak until he is somewhere around 32."

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