ENGLAND manager Martin Johnson has opted to release his captain Lewis Moody for Premiership duty this weekend but won’t be taking a similar risk with Toby Flood.
The Leicester fly-half is still working his way back to full fitness after injuring knee ligaments on the opening weekend of the season and is being protected by Johnson ahead of the opening autumn international against New Zealand on 6 November.
Flood’s rival for the No10 shirt, Jonny Wilkinson, is also nursing a shoulder injury, which is severe enough for England to have retained the services of Charlie Hodgson.
Johnson has, however, given Moody the green light to play for Bath in this Sunday’s clash against Harlequins, despite the flanker having been out of action since the start of this month with an eye socket injury.
Meanwhile, Northampton Saints skipper Dylan Hartley is relishing the possibility of taking to the field with a number of his domestic team mates against his native Kiwis at Twickenham.
The New Zealand-born hooker missed England’s summer tour with the knee injury he suffered in last season’s Premiership semi-final, but has been back to his rugged best this term.
Saints stars Chris Ashton, Courtney Lawes and Ben Foden are also very much in the England reckoning and Hartley would love to represent his country alongside his club colleagues.
He said: “It would be a dream start to be playing for England with the Northampton lads but you can’t look that far ahead. We’ve got to have a solid week training and personally I’m happy to just be back in the EPS [elite player squad] – even though I never left it. After the injury I want to get back to being a regular.”
But the front row forward knows it will be a stern challenge after the performance of England’s pack in Australia and especially the re-emergence of Steve Thompson as a real contender for the No2 shirt.
Hartley added: “Steve Thompson was fantastic in the second Test and that is great as it adds competition.
“He’s the man in possession now but whenever you’ve got that No2 shirt there are four or five people after it so you’ve always got to be on top of your game.”