Sale’s Mathew Tait will provide a more attacking option at outside centre on his first start since the 2007 World Cup final, while sparky Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care is also recalled.
Johnson’s arsenal is also aided by the return of London Irish full-back Delon Armitage and Brive inside centre
Riki Flutey, after the pair missed the autumn campaign through injury. Other changes from the team beaten by
New Zealand in November see Care’s club colleague Nick Easter restored at No8 and Bath prop David Wilson come in at tight-head.
An unprecedented glut of injuries severely restricted Johnson’s options for the autumn internationals and resulted in an unadventurous, heavily criticised series of displays.
But with a stronger squad at his disposal Johnson has rung the changes and, having admitted adopting too prescriptive an approach last year, named his most attacking team yet.
“It is good to get them back,” Johnson said yesterday. “With Riki and Delon, we picked them all through last year and they took their chance. It was a blow to lose Riki in the autumn. He has trained really well over the last 10 days and fitted right back in.
“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.”
Tait, who came to prominence as a teenage debutant in 2005, has been hindered by his versatility in trying to cement a midfield place, but is preferred to the more conservative Dan Hipkiss, of Leicester. The 23-year-old admits it has been hard to watch his international career stagnate over the past two years.
“It has frustrated me that I have not been able to kick on,” said Tait. “I probably took it for granted at the time that I would be involved. Maybe not starting and not being involved is the kick up the backside to refocus myself. But it has made me realise how much I enjoy and want to be involved in this. I’ve just got to grasp the opportunity with both hands.”
ENGLAND | HOW THEY LINE UP
15 Delon Armitage (London Irish), 14 Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks), 13 Mathew Tait (Sale Sharks), 12 Riki Flutey (Brive), 11 Ugo Monye (Harlequins), 10 Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), 9 Danny Care (Harlequins), 1 Tim Payne (Wasps), 2 Dylan Hartley (Northampton), 3 David Wilson (Bath), 4 Simon Shaw (Wasps), 5 Steve Borthwick (Saracens, capt), 6 James Haskell (Stade Francais), 7 Lewis Moody (Leicester) 8 Nick Easter (Harlequins)
Replacements: Steve Thompson (Brive), Dan Cole (Leicester), Louis Deacon (Leicester), Steffon Armitage (London Irish), Paul Hodgson (London Irish),
Toby Flood (Leicester), Ben Foden (Northampton).