Wood to make England debut


BAGSHOT, February 2 – Northampton flanker Tom Wood was handed a debut as England manager Martin Johnson made three changes Wednesday to his starting line-up for the opening Six Nations clash with Wales.

Wood, 24, comes into a new-look back row in place of injured blindside Tom Croft for Friday’s clash, while Stade Francais flanker James Haskell will replace injured captain Lewis Moody at openside.

Louis Deacon replaces injured lock Courtney Lawes to partner Stade Francais’ Tom Palmer in the second row while veteran centre Mike Tindall will captain England in Cardiff in the absence of Moody.

Elsewhere Johnson has kept faith with the side which was convincingly beaten 21-11 by South Africa at Twickenham in November.

Props Andrew Sheridan and Dan Cole will pack down in the front row either side of hooker Dylan Hartley, who was the subject of a verbal assault by Wales coach Warren Gatland last week.

The backs remain unchanged, with scrum-half Ben Youngs partnering Leicester team-mate and fly-half Toby Flood.

Tindall resumes his centre partnership with Shontayne Hape while England’s back three of Mark Cueto, Chris Ashton and fullback Ben Foden is unchanged.

Meanwhile fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, in superb form for French side Toulon, is named amongst the replacements after missing the autumn series.

England have not won in Cardiff for eight years, when Clive Woodward’s team went on to win the 2003 Grand Slam before lifting the World Cup the same year.

Bookmakers have installed England as favourites for this year’s title after showing steady signs of improvement throughout 2010, which included home-and-away victories over Australia.

England (15-1)

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 used: Steve Thompson, Danny Care, David Wilson, Simon Shaw, Matt Banahan, Joe Worsley, Jonny Wilkinson