Easter gets armband as Johnson rings changes

HARLEQUINS No8 Nick Easter will captain England in a Test match for the first time on Saturday after manager Martin Johnson resisted the urge to make wholesale changes for the visit of Samoa.

With a final Test of the autumn against South Africa on the horizon, Johnson has shuffled his pack slightly by making four changes from the side that beat Australia last weekend.

But, while regular skipper Lewis Moody is being rested, Johnson is wary of tinkering too much with a team that has made huge strides over the past fortnight.

“The team is doing well but we want to keep the continuity and we’ve seen the rewards of that,” he said. “We don’t want to break it up too much. The performance [against Australia] didn’t come out of the clouds, it was a build-up of what we’ve been doing for a while.”

Easter takes over the skipper’s armband from Moody, meaning a first international start for South Africa-born Leeds flanker Hendre Fourie.

Prop David Wilson and blindside flanker James Haskell come in for Dan Cole and Tom Croft, while perhaps the most intriguing change is Matt Banahan’s selection at outside centre.

The Bath player is better known as a winger, where he performed on his previous five England appearances, but takes Mike Tindall’s No13 shirt and is set to partner club colleague Shontayne Hape in midfield.

“He’s played a number of Test matches on the wing and done very well,” Johnson added. “As a young player he has learned what it is to come in and be a Test player. His condition is far better than it has been. The physical side is obvious but I think he has skills as well which people maybe underestimate. He’s been very, very keen and has practised very well.”

Easter has captained England in non-cap internationals, including against the Barbarians in 2008, but never before in a Test clash. However he was tipped as a potential skipper when Moody suffered injury in the run-up to the Autumn campaign, jeopardising his participation.

England have not faced Samoa since the 2007 World Cup, while the last time they clashed at Twickenham was in 2005 when both sides had a man sent off. Moody was dismissed for fighting with then Leicester team-mate Alesana Tuilagi, who scored as Samoa lost 20-10 to Ireland on Saturday.