Wilkinson and Flood selection not a gamble, says Johnson

ENGLAND vs FRANCE

ENGLAND manager Martin Johnson has denied gambling with England’s World Cup future by persevering with an out of sorts Jonny Wilkinson and shunting Toby Flood to inside centre for tomorrow’s crunch quarter-final against France.

Johnson, ahead of the biggest game of his managerial career, has taken the bold decision to promote Leicester No10 Flood in the absence of the injured Mike Tindall, rather than opt for the safety first route of recalling natural centre Shontayne Hape.

That also means a reprieve for World Cup winner Wilkinson, whose place-kicking against Scotland and Argentina was some way short of the near flawless level England have come to rely on.

Despite opting to field such an unexperienced and experimental combination in a match of such magnitude, not to mention one that could determine his own future, Johnson insisted he had faith in his selection

“It’s not a gamble,” he insisted. “You always put a lot of thought into your selections, no more so than when you’re in a World Cup quarter-final. It’s one of the options we’ve got.

“I think Mike and Manu Tuilagi have played well together. If we had to play Shontayne; there’s always an argument to play him.

“It does give us some different things that we can do on the field when we play those guys [Flood and Wilkinson].”

England are not the only ones who have attempted to spice things up, with France coach Marc Lievremont persisting with Morgan Parra at fly-half, and Wilkinson believes having an extra playmaker in the ranks will help expose Le Bleus’ makeshift No10.

“Having Toby there is hugely reassuring, less in terms of having a [goal‑kicking] safety net than knowing there is always going to be someone there making decisions,” admitted Wilkinson.

“If I’m at the bottom of a ruck there’s going to be someone else thinking as a 10. When two of us are there you’ve got one guy scanning the field and the other guy looking for the ball. Communication between us is going to be important.”

With France having been humiliated by Tonga last week Johnson, meanwhile, admits it’s vital England roll up their sleeves and impose themselves on confidence starved opponents right from the first whistle.

“There’s no one more frustrated than us about not imposing ourselves early on,” said Johnson. “We haven’t decided those halves. As [backs coach] Brian Smith says. We’ve been taking it rather than giving it.”

ENGLAND V FRANCE | MATCH FACTS

Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Date: Tomorrow
Time: 8:30am BST
TV: Live on ITV1

ENGLAND
15. B Foden (Northampton Saints)
14. C Ashton (Northampton Saints)
13. M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)
12. T Flood (Leicester Tigers)
11. M Cueto (Sale Sharks)
10. J Wilkinson (Toulon)
9. B Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
1. M Stevens (Saracens)
2. S Thompson (London Wasps)
3. D Cole (Leicester Tigers)
4. L Deacon (Leicester Tigers)
5. T Palmer (Stade Francais)
6. T Croft (Leicester Tigers)
7. L Moody (Bath Rugby, capt)
8. N Easter (Harlequins)

Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton Saints), A Corbisiero (London Irish), C Lawes (Northampton Saints), S Shaw (Unattached), J Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), M Banahan (Bath Rugby)

FRANCE
15. M Medard
14. V Clerc
13. A Rougerie
12. M Mermoz
11. A Palisson
10. M Parra
9. D Yachvili
1. JB Poux
2. W Servat
3. N Mas
4. P Pape
5. L Nallet
6. T Dusautoir (capt)
7. J Bonnaire
8. I Harinordoquy

Replacements: D Szarzewski, F Barcella, J Pierre, L Picamoles, F Trinh-Duc, D Marty, C Heymans

WORLD CUP FORM
Argentina 9-13 ENGLAND
ENGLAND 41-10 Georgia
ENGLAND 67-3 Romania
ENGLAND 16-12 Scotland

FRANCE 47-21 Japan
Canada 19-46 FRANCE
New Zealand 37-17 FRANCE
FRANCE 14-19 Tonga