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Wilkinson critics placated as Johnson abandons No10

ENGLAND fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has paid the price for a series of underwhelming displays and been dropped for only the third time in his long and distinguished international career.

Wilkinson, who kicked England to World Cup glory in 2003 and has scored more points at Test level than any other player, is the most eye-catching of manager Martin Johnson’s six changes for Saturday’s trip to France.

The 30-year-old Toulon player had been a doubt after suffering a head injury in last weekend’s 15-15 draw with Scotland, but was passed fit for the final round of Six Nations fixtures only to be relegated to the bench in favour of Toby Flood.

Johnson ignored repeated calls to drop Wilkinson and refused to criticise him even as he confirmed he had been dropped, implying his demotion had been related to his head injury. “Jonny took a number of bangs and heavy blows,” said Johnson. “We need at least two players in every position and we would have been happy to pick Toby in every game so far.”

Flood will be joined in a revamped back line by promising full-back Ben Foden, winger Chris Ashton and outside centre Mike Tindall. Other changes see Lewis Moody come in at blindside flanker and fit-again Simon Shaw return at lock. James Haskell, Mathew Tait, Louis Deacon, Ugo Monye and Delon Armitage are the others to make way. Johnson is also facing the enforced absence of captain Steve Borthwick, who continues to struggle with a knee injury. The Saracens skipper has been named in the starting line-up but will be assessed by doctors again today.

AXE MAN | WILKO’S OTHER SNUBS
1999: Loses out to Paul Grayson for World Cup quarter-final with South Africa. England lose.

2008: Dropped for Danny Cipriani, who shines, but injuries and a reported falling-out with Johnson see the Wasps starlet frozen out.