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Returning experience gives Johnson back row options

18 February 2011

  • Martin Johnson is pleased to have tough back row calls ahead of France
  • England Team Manager also praises Chris Ashton contribution

England Team Manager Martin Johnson at an England training session at Pennyhill Park, Bagshot

Photo: Getty Images

Martin Johnson admits he faces difficult back row selection issues ahead of the RBS 6 Nations clash with unbeaten France at Twickenham on Saturday, February 27.

A feature of England’s victories over Wales and Italy has been the strong performances of debutant blindside flanker Tom Wood and – in a new position at openside for England – No.7 James Haskell.

With 66-Test Lewis Moody and 2009 British & Irish Lion Tom Croft set to return from injury for Bath Rugby and Leicester Tigers respectively this weekend, Johnson knows difficult decisions await.

Speaking from England’s training base at Pennyhill Park, Johnson said he needs to consider experience, form and the unquantifiable qualities specific players bring to the side.

"I understand he [Lewis Moody] is going to be involved in Bath’s match day 23 on Saturday," Johnson said.

"We’ll have to see where he is, how he feels, where we think he is but guys have played very well in the group. He’s desperate and everyone’s desperate to stay in – that’s good.

"And I believe Crofty [Tom Croft] will be involved [with Leicester] too.

"I understand that people have credits in the bank, what they bring, their intangibles, but ultimately what trumps that doesn’t change: we’re here to win Test matches and decide on our best team to win this Test match next Saturday.

"Guys who have 70 caps and have done things for this side for 10 years have credit in the bank and you know that type of player can go in and perform off less of a base than maybe a guy going in for his fifth cap or certainly first cap.

"But the overriding thing is that we pick the team to win and everyone understands that."

Johnson lauds Ashton’s contribution

England wing Chris Ashton celebrates one of his four tries against Italy in the 2011 RBS 6 Nations

Photo: Getty Images

The form of Chris Ashton, whose six tries in two games has already equalled former England centre Will Greenwood and Wales wing Shane Williams’ record for most in one 6 Nations, has been another major plus point.

There have been mixed views on the Northampton Saints wing’s infamous swan-dive celebration but there is no doubt the 23-year-old has got the public talking about rugby, with kids practising their own try celebrations on rugby fields around the country.

Johnson said it is fantastic that he is making such an impact in raising the profile of rugby but the celebration furore should not detract from his outstanding performances.

He added: "It wasn’t said directly to Chris and all that was said in the team review was get the ball down safely and if you can get it near the posts. And to be fair to Chris he did that four times.

"I’d prefer him to get the ball down safely but he’s done that. I think he’s a bit bored by it all, I don’t think he wants it to detract from what the team’s doing – and his team mates have put him in for some great opportunities – and obviously what he’s done.

"He’s a pretty serious rugby player under that fun guy and we’re not here to stamp on people’s personalities. He’s a good guy to have in the group and he’s playing fantastically well."

Martin Johnson names his team to face France in the RBS 6 Nations at 12 noon on Thursday, February 27 and you can see it first on RFU.com.