Wilkinson’s World Cup boost

ENGLAND manager Martin Johnson has declared Jonny Wilkinson his first choice fly-half after selecting the veteran No10 for tomorrow’s final World Cup warm-up against Ireland.

Johnson has opted for Wilkinson over Toby Flood, who disappointed in the defeat to Wales last time out, in a move that puts the 2003 World Cup winner in pole position to start the tournament.

Five other changes see a new-look midfield pairing of Manu Tuilagi and Mike Tindall, who captains the side, and recalls for winger Chris Ashton, prop Andrew Sheridan and flanker James Haskell.

Johnson said: “He [Wilkinson] has played very well. He deserves this game to start. We think it is the right call for them [him and Flood] to swap round and we don’t miss a beat.”

It marks a return to favour for Wilkinson, 32, who last started in a full-strength England team during the 2010 Six Nations.

“It is a massive pleasure and it is ultimately what you are after,” he said. “The experience of being on the bench and having to react to that has been a massive learning one for me. I have benefited hugely from it.”

Tuilagi, who impressed on debut earlier this month, and Tindall are the 13th centre pairing in Johnson’s 35-match reign.

But the manager said: “I don’t see it as something new. It is going to be exciting. This is a good chance to get Manu on the field. We think he deserves a chance to start another Test match.”

England team to face Ireland: B Foden; C Ashton, M Tuilagi, M Tindall (capt), M Cueto; J Wilkinson, R Wigglesworth; A Sheridan, S Thompson, D Cole, L Deacon, C Lawes, T Croft, J Haskell, N Easter. Replacements: D Hartley, M Stevens, S Shaw, T Wood, J Simpson, T Flood, D Armitage.