Erinle replaces Geraghty for England Test

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The Independent Online

Ayoola Erinle will make his first England start after replacing Shane Geraghty at inside centre in the team to play New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday.

The surprise selection of the Biarritz centre is one of three personnel changes Martin Johnson has made to the side that laboured to a 16-9 victory over Argentina last weekend.



Simon Shaw returns to the second row after recovering from a foot injury and Joe Worsley is back at blind-side flanker.



Johnson has also made one positional change with Ugo Monye switching to the wing and Mark Cueto taking over at full-back.



Geraghty, Louis Deacon and Tom Croft all drop to the bench, where they are joined by Mathew Tait, who is involved for the first time this autumn, and fit-again prop David Wilson.



Erinle, who was originally drafted into the party from outside England's 64-man elite squad following an injury to Mike Tindall, will win his second cap after coming off the bench in the 18-9 defeat to Australia earlier this month.



The 29-year-old has been selected at inside centre despite having spent the majority of his rugby career for Wasps, Leicester and Biarritz playing at outside centre.



Erinle offers a more physical midfield presence to Geraghty, who has been used as an alternative playmaker to Jonny Wilkinson in the last two Test matches.

Twelve months ago, Erinle was on loan at Championship club Nottingham having failed to break into the Leicester team and considering whether he had any future in the game.

Erinle's England ambitions had long since been extinguished but, like Wilkinson and Steve Thompson, his career has been revitalised by a move to France.



"If I am brutally honest, my prospects of playing for England were a dream that had been and gone. You try to hold onto it but as time goes on it starts to fade away," said Erinle.



"When I went to Biarritz I just thought: 'At least I will be playing rugby and enjoying myself'.



"Before that I was in a pretty dark place. I was questioning what the point was - but thank God I am in this position now.



"The Leicester coaches were apologetic about the fact I wasn't really given a chance and I had to make a decision. The opportunity came up at Biarritz and I took it with both hands.



"Hopefully if I get the chance on Saturday to come off the bench I will vindicate the coaches decision to bring me into the 22."



Erinle is relishing life in France, where a run of games in the Top 14 has rebuilt his shattered confidence.



"It is everything you envisage," he said.



"The French lifestyle is interesting, very laid back but they are hugely passionate about their rugby.



"They haven't changed me as a player, they have just made me more confident by playing me week in and week out. I have had my longest run of games in quite a while."

Meanwhile, Johnson was adamant he remains the right man to lead English rugby after World Cup winner Josh Lewsey yesterday launched a withering attack on England's coaching team.

"We get on with what we have to do. Let's not forget we won against Argentina, a fact that appears to have been lost," he said.



"People pipe up with an opinion but we have to get on with it. We take it with a pinch of salt. Of course I still believe I'm up to it.



"You can't deny the pressure is there but you deal with it. We won against Argentina and dug ourselves out of a hole to beat a team that is ranked fourth in the world."



The fiercest criticism has been reserved for forwards coach John Wells, but the former Leinster back row shrugged off calls for him to removed.



"It's part of the job. Everyone has the right to their opinion," he said.



"We can only do our job to the best of our ability. We want to put on a good performance. This weekend is about getting the win."



Johnson denied damage limitation had shaped his team selection against the world's number one-ranked side with big-hitting Worsley preferred ahead of the more dynamic Croft.



Erinle is also considered a more solid defender than Geraghty.



"Erinle and Worsley are great ball-carriers. We know we will have to defend on Saturday but if you can bring those two players in it's a great opportunity," he said.



"The guys have to be able to defend and attack. It's not that Shane or Tom have done anything wrong, it's a case of picking a team to win the game."



Johnson defended England's no-thrills style that reached its nadir against Argentina when they kicked reams of possession away in the first half.



"I'd rather win a game and then get criticised for style afterwards," he said.



"We were a bit conservative in the first half on Saturday.



"We fixed it, maybe later than we should have done, but we got the game won which was the important thing."





England team for Saturday's Investec Challenge international against New Zealand at Twickenham (1430):

M Cueto (Sale Sharks); M Banahan (Bath), D Hipkiss (Leicester), A Erinle (Biarritz), U Monye (Harlequins); J Wilkinson (Toulon), P Hodgson (London Irish); T Payne (Wasps), D Hartley (Northampton), D Bell (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), J Worsley (Wasps), L Moody (Leicester), J Haskell (Stade Francais).



Replacements: S Thompson (Brive), D Wilson (Bath), L Deacon (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins), S Geraghty (Northampton), M Tait (Sale Sharks).



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