LONDON, October 27 – England manager Martin Johnson has unveiled a much-changed squad for next month's internationals against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand after injuries deprived him of several key players.But while three uncapped players were included in a revised 32-man squad, the most eye-catching selection was that of hooker Steve Thompson, who played in the England side Johnson captained to World Cup glory back in 2003.
Johnson has seen what would have been his first-choice all British and Irish Lions front-row of Phil Vickery, Lee Mears and Andrew Sheridan, as well as back-up prop Julian White, all sidelined.
That led Johnson to recall Duncan Bell four years after the prop won the last of his two caps.
Bell could add to that that tally on November 7 when England begin their international season against Australia before Argentina and New Zealand arrive at Twickenham on successive weekends.
Thompson’s selection is the latest chapter in a remarkable story for the former Northampton front-row, who retired in 2007 because of a neck injury.
However, months later he received a second medical opinion and started to play again for French club Brive, where he is still continuing his career.
Bath prop David Barnes is one of a trio of uncapped forwards along with Richard Blaze and Courtney Lawes, given his chance after Nick Easter tore a calf muscle playing for Harlequins last weekend
Sheridan, Vickery, lock Simon Shaw, utility back Olly Morgan, centre Riki Flutey, fly-half Toby Flood, Easter, flanker Tom Rees, full-back Delon Armitage, hooker Lee Mears and scrum-half Harry Ellis were the 11 players replaced from Johnson’s original elite squad.
By contrast, World Cup winning fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, whose career has been blighted by a variety of injuries since he kicked the winning drop-goal in the 2003 final, is fit.
Armitage was the stand-out performer in last season’s corresponding matches when England, after seeing off the Pacific Islanders, were well beaten 28-14, 42-6 and 32-6 later last November at Twickenham by Australia, world champions South Africa and New Zealand respectively.
Saracens lock Steve Borthwick has retained the captaincy, in a rare example of continuity amidst all the fitness problems.
Johnson, trying to remain upbeat, said: We’ve had to make a number of changes because of injuries but we have strength in depth and each of the players coming in has the opportunity to push themselves into contention for the first match against Australia."
Matt Banahan (Bath), Danny Care (Harlequins), Mark Cueto (Sale), Ben Foden (Northampton), Shane Geraghty (Northampton), Andy Goode (Brive/FRA), Dan Hipkiss (Leicester), Paul Hodgson (London Irish), Ugo Monye (Harlequins), David Strettle (Harlequins), Mathew Tait (Sale), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Richard Wigglesworth (Sale), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon/FRA)
Steffon Armitage (London Irish), David Barnes (Bath), Duncan Bell (Bath), Richard Blaze (Leicester), Steve Borthwick (Saracens, capt), George Chuter (Leicester), Jordan Crane (Leicester), Tom Croft (Leicester), Louis Deacon (Leicester), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), James Haskell (Stade Francais/FRA), Ben Kay (Leicester), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Lewis Moody (Leicester), Tim Payne (Wasps), Steve Thompson (Brive/FRA), David Wilson (Bath), Joe Worsley (Wasps)