Scotland v England, Six Nations, March 13
Armitage targets return to top form
March 10, 2010
England fullback Delon Armitage is aware that Ben Foden is pushing for inclusion at No.15 © Getty Images
England fullback Delon Armitage is determined to repay the faith shown in him by manager Martin Johnson with a big performance against Scotland on Saturday.
The London Irish star has failed to find his best form in this year's Six Nations and injury threatened to sideline him for the Calcutta Cup clash but after proving his fitness he was retained in the side that will line-up at Murrayfield.
Johnson described his latest team selection as the toughest of his 18-month tenure following his side's 20-16 defeat to Ireland at Twickenham last time out. Those deliberations resulted in the decision to include Armitage ahead of Ben Foden and replace flanker Lewis Moody with Joe Worsley. Foden replaced Armitage off the bench against Ireland and made an immediate impact, enhancing his already powerful claims to be awarded a first Test start.
"It was a massive relief to be named in the team. I kind of expected not to be in it," said Armitage. "I haven't had the best Six Nations and after going off injured Ben came on and did a good job off the bench. For me to get another shot to try and get back to the form I showed last year is a good opportunity.
"But obviously I need to start showing something. Foden is right there behind, he's been playing really well for his club, and the management and coaching set-up know he's ready. I could almost say I'm on my last wheels, this is my last chance. I need to start showing some improvement because I think I just haven't been playing well enough.
"I probably have been too impatient but I need to get into form as soon as possible because I don't want give that 15 shirt up. I know Ben is right there. If I don't show some improvement I think I'll lose the shirt very soon. But I know there is a performance in me. I'm not going to be negative. I'm a confident player and I have a job to do for the boys. I want to do it to the best of my ability and I will do everything I can."
Armitage had only just recovered from shoulder surgery by the start of the Six Nations and England's attack coach Brian Smith acknowledged he is not at his best.
"We are happy with what he is doing but there is more to come from Delo," said Smith. The gauntlet has been laid down.
Johnson also insisted Moody had not been dropped - rather that Worsley had been preferred at openside for a physical showdown with the Scottish back row. Worsley is widely considered to be the best defender in the England set-up, he is a powerful ball-carrier and Johnson believes the Wasps veteran is the perfect fit to tackle the Scots.
"We had this conversation last year when we picked Joe at seven but he was probably our best player," said Johnson. "There is not a weakness in Lewis' game but Joe's defence is good and his ball-carrying is particularly strong."
Johnson's other change to the side from the Ireland game was the expected inclusion of Leicester lock Louis Deacon in place of the injured Simon Shaw. But there was a surprise on the bench, with Leicester's uncapped scrum-half Ben Youngs preferred to Paul Hodgson.
Youngs, 20, went head-to-head with Hodgson in Leicester's 35-19 victory over London Irish on Saturday and, like Armitage, he was also surprised to be selected.
"It is a harsh call on Paul Hodgson who has been fantastic for us on and off the field. Ben is playing well enough and we feel he deserves a chance," said Johnson. "I told Ben he was on the bench and he said 'but Leicester haven't got a game this weekend'. I had to say 'no, you are on the bench for us!'"
Murrayfield has been a graveyard for England in recent years. Ben Youngs' father, Nick, won six caps for England at scrum-half and lost there in 1984. Saturday's game will mark the 20th anniversary of Scotland's 13-7 Grand Slam-clinching victory in 1990 and England have been beaten on each of their last two visits to Scotland.
Adding extra spice to the occasion, Johnson goes up against the former England coach Andy Robinson, who is now in charge of a Scotland side smarting from three straight defeats.
"They will be very confrontational but they are not afraid to try things so you have to be very alert," said Johnson. "Their driving game has improved since he has been there. It will be a typical England-Scotland encounter in many ways."
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