NICK EASTER believes Martin Johnson’s England training camp is the best he’s been involved in as his side prepare for the visit of Wales in their Six Nations opener.
The Harlequins star missed the autumn internationals with a calf injury but reclaims the No8 shirt on Saturday when his natural leadership qualities will be vital in England’s quest to end a three-match losing streak against the Welsh.
Such leadership was clearly lacking in a disappointing autumn campaign, but coach Johnson now has had the luxury of picking from a near full-strength squad after being hit by a series of injuries last year.
Easter’s return, in particular, is a significant boost and the 31-year-old is clearly relishing the opportunity of giving the benefit of his experience.
“This has been the best training camp since I have been involved,” the 31-year-old said. “Everyone is happy with what is going on.
“We have picked a side, now let’s use their strengths as individuals and play heads up rugby. If someone sees something, ‘Bang, it is on’. We are the guys out on the pitch and making those decisions. You can’t be looking up to the stands. You have to be good enough to change it. If I feel I can make a suggestion, I will.”
Another key returnee is full-back Delon Armitage, who comes in to form part of a new, dynamic back division, which sees the inclusion of Sale’s Mathew Tait at outside centre and Harlequins’ Danny Care at scrum-half.
Johnson and attack coach Brian Smith came under fire for a lack of attacking intent during the autumn series, but Armitage says all that will change at Twickenham on Saturday.
“You mustn’t attack for the sake of it, but if it’s on, then go, play what you see in front of you and leave nothing in the tank,” the London Irish player said. “We’ve got that freedom now to play to our strengths rather than go out there, holding back, not trying things, worrying about the game plan and still losing.
“As a back-three player, if you are given a licence to go, any player would tell you that is a golden key and I intend to use it.
“We’ve been promised good ball from the forwards and if we get that and use our pace, then hopefully we can cause the Welsh some problems.”