Hape handed surprise England call
January 13, 2010
Shontayne Hape has been handed a surprise England call-up © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson has added Bath's former New Zealand rugby league international Shontayne Hape and Northampton's prolific wing Chris Ashton to his elite squad for this year's Six Nations.
Northampton fullback Ben Foden has also been handed a call-up as has Saints forward Courtney Lawes while Delon Armitage, Riki Flutey, Toby Flood, Nick Easter and Lee Mears all return from injury having missed the November internationals. Forwards James Haskell, Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson are also back in the elite squad having impressed during the autumn series. As a result, Gloucester fullback Olly Morgan, Leicester forwards George Chuter and Ben Kay and Wasps flanker Tom Rees all drop into the Saxons squad.
Hape, who only qualified to play for England on residency grounds this month, has been rewarded for a strong start to the season in a struggling Bath side. The 28-year-old won 14 international caps for the Kiwis before making his cross-code switch from Bradford Bulls to Bath in 2008. He joins Flutey and Dylan Hartley as the third New Zealand-born player in the England squad.
Ashton, another rugby league convert, is promoted from the Saxons squad in place of Phil Vickery, with the veteran Wasps tight-head to miss the tournament with a neck injury. The 22-year-old Saints speedster has been in blistering form this season with 15 tries in 16 appearances in all competitions.
There is no place in the squad for Shane Geraghty, who started England's November Tests in the centre, or Danny Cipriani, with both players named in the Saxons squad. Fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has been retained, with Flood likely to provide cover at No.10 as well as in the centre. The versatile Lawes replaces the veteran Ben Kay and will be an option at lock or in the backrow and while second row Steve Borthwick retains his place he has not been confirmed as captain.
Sale prop Andrew Sheridan has been named in the squad despite a shoulder injury, while there is also a place for veteran Julian White who is expected to return from injury later this month. Johnson will make a final decision on the fitness of the duo on January 25. Gloucester centre Mike Tindall and Wasps flanker Joe Worsley are also omitted as they continue to battle back from injuries but Leicester scrum-half Harry Ellis retains his spot despite a knee injury.
Johnson defended his decision to pick former New Zealand rugby league international Hape, insisting improving England's fortunes is his only concern. Hape becomes the third Kiwi-born player in the current squad alongside Flutey and hooker Dylan Hartley with a fourth, Wasps No.8 Dan Ward-Smith, featuring in the Saxons group.
"It is what the players do when they are here, how they handle themselves, how they train, how they play and the commitment they have to that team," said Johnson. "I said that to Shontayne when I spoke to him the other day. Riki has been one of our outstanding players and characters in the team. Dylan Hartley as well. I am looking forward to having Shontayne there. I have played with guys who are born overseas throughout my career. You could never doubt Mike Catt's commitment to the England cause.
"Shontayne has got an opportunity. We have been impressed with him as a player. We have made enquiries about him as a person and a character and everything is positive. I am fully expecting him to come in and work hard and knuckle down."
Johnson is confident Hape can make a far more successful transition than his fellow New Zealand rugby league internationals Lesley Vainikolo and Henry Paul.
"His defence is outstanding. His ball-playing, his ability to off-load in the tackle and make decisions in that area is fantastic as well," said Johnson. "The position has been a little bit tricky for us in the last few years. It is fantastic to have him in there. It gives us some depth. It is a bit of a tough call on Shane who played at 12 for us in two games in the autumn and did pretty well. We will consider him at fly-half for the Saxons."
Johnson also dropped a major hint that the presence of a more robust inside centre in the shape of Flutey or Hape would open the door for Mathew Tait to finally nail down the 13 jersey. "I have felt a bit for Tait. It can be a little convenient sometimes to stick him on the bench because he is a utility. It is probably a time for him to challenge for that 13 spot," he said.
England head to Portugal for a warm-weather training camp in the week beginning January 25 before tackling Wales in their Six Nations opener at Twickenham on February 6.
England Senior EPS squad:
Forwards: S Armitage (London Irish), S Borthwick (Saracens), J Crane (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), N Easter (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), J Haskell (Stade Francais), C Lawes (Northampton), L Mears (Bath), L Moody (Leicester), T Payne (Wasps), S Shaw (Wasps), A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), S Thompson (CA Brive), J White (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath)
Backs: D Armitage (London Irish), C Ashton (Northampton), M Banahan (Bath), D Care (Harlequins), M Cueto (Sale Sharks), H Ellis (Leicester), T Flood (Leicester), B Foden (Northampton), R Flutey (CA Brive), S Hape (Bath), D Hipkiss (Leicester), P Hodgson (London Irish), U Monye (Harlequins), M Tait (Sale Sharks), J Wilkinson (Toulon)
England Saxons Squad:
Forwards: David Attwood (Gloucester), Duncan Bell (Bath), George Chuter (Leicester Tigers), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Phil Dowson (Northampton Saints), Ben Kay (Leicester Tigers), Nick Kennedy (London Irish), Matthew Mullan (Worcester Warriors), David Paice (London Irish), Tom Rees (London Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Andy Saull (Saracens), George Skivington (London Wasps), Dan Ward-Smith (London Wasps), Rob Webber (London Wasps), Nick Wood (Gloucester), Ben Woods (Leicester Tigers)
Backs: Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Danny Cipriani (London Wasps), Shane Geraghty (Northampton Saints), Charlie Hodgson (Sale Sharks), Stephen Myler (Northampton Saints), Olly Morgan (Gloucester), Paul Sackey (London Wasps), Joe Simpson (London Wasps), David Strettle (Harlequins), Dominic Waldouck (London Wasps), Richard Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), Mickey Young (Newcastle Falcons)
As Ray McLoughlin prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday, Huw Richards pays tribute to the man and the selectors who had the wisdom to bring him into the Ireland fold
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament