Moody's return gives Johnson a dilemma for crucial France game

Bath 38 Northampton 8

Lewis Moody is far from being the only player over whom the England medical staff will run a rule today. Since he was the captain, however, before damaged knee ligaments ruled him out of the opening two games of the Six Nations Championship, his wellbeing has a greater significance.

Martin Johnson will not name until Thursday his starting XV for the pivotal match of the championship so far, against France at Twickenham on Saturday, but it is short odds that Moody will be involved in the squad. Johnson, the team manager, must weigh up his experience and increasing maturity as the national leader against the success in games against Wales and Italy of his younger flankers, James Haskell and Tom Wood.

This is all familiar territory for Moody. How many times has he come back from injuries just in time to play for England? It happened before the autumn series this season and was one of the reasons Leicester did not stand in the way of his move last summer to Bath, the probability that England would see more of him up to and beyond the World Cup than his club.

So a 22-minute cameo at the Recreation Ground on Saturday, as Bath handed Northampton their severest Premiership defeat of the season, was enough to prove his fitness after a five-week absence. "I've been with England over the last three weeks, been part of everything and it has been great," Moody said.

"I said all along I wanted to get back for the French game and while it's been soul-destroying [having to watch], it's been great to see the boys playing so well in my absence. Tins [Mike Tindall] has been doing a cracking job as captain and now we're starting to see the rewards of a lot of hard work. Guys are starting to gel. We now have a raft of players Martin Johnson can call upon and the more players you have competing for positions, the better for the team."

Bath played the high-tempo game to which England aspire but with a player that England choose to ignore. Matt Banahan scored three of their five tries on Saturday from the wing, though much of his creative work comes in midfield where England may yet prefer him; but the missing ingredient is Olly Barkley, the footballer and playmaker at inside centre who has been found wanting by Johnson and his coaches.

"We're back to where we were this time last year," said Steve Meehan, Bath's head coach, adding pointedly, "with Olly at 12." England, though, play Shontayne Hape – also of Bath – at 12, a role in which he and Tindall spend time as auxiliary forwards, which is so much the modern idiom.

Bath have started Banahan at centre five times this season, as did England against Samoa in November, and no one is more appreciative than Meehan of his midfield ball skills, so deft for a man standing 6ft 7in and weighing 17st 9lb. England's answer to New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams? You would not rule it out, not watching the manner in which he ruptured Northampton's defence and the back-of-the-hand pass which sent Matt Carraro to the line.

Northampton's inability to cope with Bath's positive approach gives the erstwhile Premiership leaders cause for concern.



Bath: Tries Banahan 3, Carraro, Vesty. Conversions Barkley 5. Penalty Barkley. Northampton: Try Tonks. Penalty Myler.

Bath N Abendanon; M Banahan, M Carraro (S Vesty, 55), O Barkley, T Biggs (J Cuthbert, 51); A James, M Claassens (M McMillan, 70); D Flatman (D Barnes, 60), L Mears (P Dixon, 58), D Bell (D Wilson, 49), S Hooper, D Grewcock (I Fernandez Lobbe, 51), B Skirving (L Moody, 58), L Watson, S Taylor.

Northampton G Tonks (sin bin, 28-39); B Reihana, J Ansbro (J Elliott, 55), J Clarke, S Armstrong; S Myler (S Geraghty, 51), S Commins (R Powell, 47); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 58), B Sharman (A Long, 58), B Mujati (T Mercey, 58), D Vickerman (M Sorenson, 59), C Day, C Clark, P Dowson (M Easter, 51), R Wilson.

Referee W Barnes (London).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore