England unchanged for Italy clash

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The Independent Online

England manager Martin Johnson has named an unchanged team for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash with Italy at Twickenham.

Johnson will send out the same starting XV that laid the foundations for England's 26-19 victory over Wales, their first in Cardiff since 2003.

The only change to England's 22-man squad comes on the bench, where Leeds flanker Hendre Fourie replaces Joe Worsley after recovering from a calf injury.

Fourie was not considered for the Wales game but he came through a 40-minute appearance for Leeds unscathed last weekend to prove his fitness.

Johnson's decision to leave his starting line-up intact means a Twickenham debut for the Northampton flanker Tom Wood, who made such an impressive introduction to Test rugby last week.

Mike Tindall continues as captain in the injury-enforced absence of Lewis Moody, who is targeting a return to action for the France game on February 26.

Twelve months ago, Johnson loaded his bench with forwards - including a full front row - in a bid to counter the Italians' ferocious power.

England produced a one-dimensional performance in Rome that was devoid of creative ideas and they scraped a 17-12 victory.

That dismal game was not helped by the old breakdown interpretations but it proved a watershed for England, with senior players demanding a change in approach.

One year on and the fact Johnson has retained a four-three split on the bench indicates a greater confidence in England's attacking options.

Toby Flood, Tom Palmer, Chris Ashton, Ben Youngs and Ben Foden will all start on Saturday having brought an extra dimension to England's game.

This selection marks the first time that Johnson has picked the same starting XV since the games between Italy and Ireland during last season's championship, but it is a sign of an increasing consistency of selection that the former captain picked identical sides to face Australia and South Africa in the autumn.

And Johnson saw little need for change following last week's efficient success at the Millennium Stadium - even though he acknowledges there is still plenty of work to do.

"The lad did okay on Friday," he said. "There are lots of bits we need to get better at, things that we talked about after the game and with the guys on Monday.

"There was a big build-up to that game last week, and this is not seen as the biggest game of the week, but they are the only team that can beat us this week.

"Right from the first meeting we had on Monday have spoken about things we did well and things we can improve on.

"We had plenty of chances to score tries and finish the game off last week. We had one near the end that would have killed the game off and we didn't get in, so we spoke a bit about that."

Johnson admitted it had been a tough decision to drop Worsley from his 22, but believes Fourie can have a big impact off the bench.

"He is a good option, a genuine seven," said Johnson of the Leeds man. "But we are happy with the guys there, and having him there to make an impact off the bench. It is tough on Joe as the guys who came off the bench on Friday had lots of experience and helped close the game out."

Italy opened their Six Nations campaign with a narrow 13-11 defeat to Ireland in Rome, and Johnson expects them to provide a tough test for his side.

"You have the same conversation when you play Italy, even going back to when we played them in the 1995 World Cup and the World Cup qualifier in 1998 - they are tough games," he said.

"They should have won last week. They can play. They keep hold of the ball and put you under pressure and that's the game.

"They do that well and we are under no illusions that this is the toughest test we can play this week.

"People say we didn't play well against them last year but they are a good side and they are a different challenge."

England team to play Italy in the RBS 6 Nations championship at Twickenham on Saturday, February 12 (kick-off 14.30):

B Foden (Northampton Saints); C Ashton (Northampton Saints), M Tindall (Gloucester Rugby, capt), S Hape (Bath Rugby), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); T Flood (Leicester Tigers), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), L Deacon (Leicester Tigers), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Wood (Northampton Saints), J Haskell (Stade Francais), N Easter (Harlequins).

Replacements: S Thompson (Leeds Carnegie), D Wilson (Bath Rugby), S Shaw (London Wasps), H Fourie (Leeds Carnegie), D Care (Harlequins), J Wilkinson (Toulon), M Banahan (Bath Rugby).