BAGSHOT, February 24 – The return of fit-again prop Andrew Sheridan was the only change as England manager Martin Johnson named his team to play France in this weekend's Six Nations clash.
Sheridan, a late withdrawal from the side which beat Italy 59-13 earlier this month, is restored at loosehead in place of Alex Corbisiero, who drops to the replacements bench ahead of the injured David Wilson.
Lewis Moody, who returned to club duty for Bath last weekend after suffering a knee injury in January, missed out on the matchday 22 after suffering a setback during training this week.
Moody’s continued absence means experienced centre Mike Tindall will retain the captaincy after leading England in the earlier wins over Wales and Italy.
Johnson said Moody’s failure to recover had been a blow to the squad but said the back row that had performed well against Wales and Italy — James Haskell, Tom Wood and Nick Easter — would cope with the French threat.
"He’s our captain, we all know what he brings to the team and he’s worked really hard to get back, everyone was confident but these things happen, unfortunately," Johnson said.
"He’s disappointed and so are we. But we haven’t had him so far and the other guys have done a good job, we’re fully happy with James (Haskell) and Tom (Wood).
"It’s a consistent team selection, there’s lots of guys playing well in the Premiership and putting pressure on them but we thought this was the right group to go with."
In the front row, Sheridan will partner hooker Dylan Hartley and tighthead Dan Cole, while Tom Palmer and Louis Deacon are retained at lock.
In the backs, scrum-half Ben Youngs continues his flourishing partnership with No.10 Toby Flood, while Tindall is joined at centre by New Zealand-born rugby league convert Shontayne Hape.
The English starting XV is completed by the side’s vaunted back three of wings Chris Ashton and Mark Cueto and fullback Ben Foden.
Johnson again laughed off questions about comments from France coach Marc Lievremont earlier this week in which he said he "disliked" England.
"We’ve been busy getting ready. I quite like it, it’s international sport and it’s about backing your country," he said.
"I wasn’t quite so sure of the Franco-Italian relationship, I’m glad he’s cleared that up. We’re fairly confident about how the Celts feel about us, we knew about that one."
Johnson meanwhile said France’s win over Ireland in Dublin was the result of the championship to date.
"Their win in Dublin was probably the win of the championship so far against a proud Irish team," Johnson said. "To go behind and come back twice … they’ve got big threats.
"Everyone talks about their counter-attacking ability obviously, but they’re a tough team in the scrummage and defensively they’re pretty strong.
"They’ve won eight on the trot in the championship, it’s a couple of years ago since they last lost."
Asked to assess where France were in their development, Johnson replied: "Where are they? Where they always are — they can beat anyone in the world.
"People talk about which team’s going to turn up – well, we can’t affect that until five o’clock on Saturday. We can only affect which England turns up – and it’s going to be the best one."
Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Mike Tindall (capt), Shontayne Hape, Mark Cueto; Toby Flood, Ben Youngs; Nick Easter, James Haskell, Tom Wood; Tom Palmer, Louis Deacon; Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Andrew Sheridan
Replacements: Alex Corbisiero, Hendre Fourie, Danny Care, Jonny Wilkinson, Steve Thompson, Simon Shaw, Matt Banahan