Johnno lets his side go free


BAGSHOT, February 3 – Martin Johnson has urged his players to trust their instincts after selecting arguably the most attack-minded side of his 18-month reign as England manager for Saturday's Six Nations opener against Wales at Twickenham.The return of Mathew Tait at outside centre appears to mark a change of approach after several uninspiring displays during a November series where England were beaten by Australia and New Zealand and only just did enough to defeat Argentina.

All three of England’s opponents that month spoke of how comfortable it was to defend against Johnson’s team although injuries meant the 2003 World Cup winning captain had been robbed of several first-choice players.

England’s injury crisis was used by Johnson to explain what he conceded was a too "prescriptive" approach.

But after naming his side on Tuesday, the former lock insisted players would not be shackled by pre-match plans.

"We were maybe a little bit too prescriptive in the autumn and there were reasons for that. We know we have got to be more effective," said Johnson.

"We trust the guys to go out and play. Mat Tait is a massive talent and an instinctive player. He can also defend very well and he has a good kicking game."

Johnson also recalled Danny Care at scrum-half, saying: "Danny is probably the best running nine that we have. He is playing very well and he is the best guy for what we want to do on Saturday.

"The guys have got to make the instinctive calls within the pressures of a Test match and we trust them to do that. When the opportunities are there we have to be able to see them and take them."

Also in the side are a trio of fit-again firs-choice players in full-back Delon Armitage, inside centre Riki Flutey and No 8 Nick Easter, who all missed the November series through injury.

New Zealand born Flutey will have a key role in lifting some of the burden for getting England going off the shoulders of fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, Test rugby’s world record points-scorer.

"It is great to get Riki back with his experience, his eyes and ears at 12. It was a little bit of an issue for us in the autumn," said Johnson.

"With Riki and Delon, we picked them all through last year and they took their chance. Riki ended the season as a (British and Irish) Lion.

"It was frustrating not having him and Delon in the autumn, because you want them to progress in their second season.

"Nick’s leadership has been vital for us. He is a strength in that area and it is nice to get him back into the group because he is playing well for Harlequins," Johnson added.

Injuries have though deprived England of a first-choice front row with experienced props Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery both set to miss the whole of this year’s Six Nations.

Tim Payne, who has been through some torrid matches with Wasps lately, starts at loosehead prop while David Wilson is at tighthead with New Zealand born Dylan Hartley the hooker.

England’s front-row are set to find themselves up against the Wales all-Lion trio of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones.

"We have got our hands full there because I rate them a lot," said England scrum coach Graham Rowntree, who worked with the Welsh trio on the Lions’ tour of South Africa last year.

"We can’t be overawed by it. They may be a Lions front row but they are a front row coming to Twickenham and that is our house."