Geraghty stands aside as England go on the defensive

Under-fire Johnson puts all faith in power and picks Erinle ahead of Saints' man
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The Independent Online

Nice bench, shame about the team. England, in full damage-limitation mode, will confront the All Blacks at Twickenham this weekend with a deeply defensive line-up on the pitch and some of the richest attacking talent in the land – the centres Mathew Tait and Shane Geraghty, the flanker Tom Croft – loitering among the replacements. Tait, recalled to the match-day squad after a fortnight of morale-deadening rejection, may not have expected a starting place, but the others must be almost as bewildered as they are frustrated.

Joe Worsley, who would happily tackle a tractor and may find himself having to if the unusually substantial Ma'a Nonu goes a-roaming down the back-row channel, plays ahead of Croft. Meanwhile, Ayoola Erinle, 6ft 3in and well over 17st, has relieved Geraghty of the No 12 jersey. By making this decision, England have abandoned any notion of maximising the footballing potential of their midfield. They have fallen back, again, to the "smash it up" philosophy, which was always likely to be the default position of any management team dominated by old Leicester hard-heads.

Taken together with the relegation from the squad of the exciting Courtney Lawes and the arm's-length treatment of Danny Cipriani and Tom Varndell, yesterday's announcement was hardly one to lift the spirit. It is not inconceivable that the negative approach will work for England this weekend and they might, if they cut down the error count and the tourists have an off-day, emerge with honour intact. But the benefits of naked short-termism never last long. Martin Johnson, whose contribution as manager is now being examined microscopically by pretty much everyone apart from his employers, signed off a team showing six changes, three of them positional, from the one that stumbled around like a blind drunk in an alleyway for much of last weekend's match with Argentina. As expected, Simon Shaw returns to the second row for Louis Deacon, while Ugo Monye's relocation to left wing means a shift to the right flank for Matt Banahan and the instalment of Mark Cueto as last line of defence.

If Monye was entirely open in expressing his relief – "I don't hide from things: I had a stinker and it's good to be back in the position where I've played most of my rugby," admitted the Harlequin – the reaction of Geraghty was more restrained. The Northampton midfielder admitted his self-belief had taken "a knock" and wore the bemused expression of a bright, imaginative player who no longer understood what was expected of him.

The manager confessed, not for the first time, that the effort against the Pumas last Saturday was unsatisfactory, though he could not help adding: "We did actually win the game and that's the place to be, even if we're criticised for a lack of style afterwards." But in confronting the criticism aimed at his coaching team over the last five days, he did not budge. "Anyone would think we lost to the Argentines," he said. "As John Wells has mentioned, the last time England played them at Twickenham, we did lose."

Wells, the forwards coach, has taken much of the slating, but unlike last year, when his demeanour prior to the autumn Test with New Zealand was spiky, there was no edge of darkness to his mood yesterday. "I can't pretend there's no pressure," he said, "but dealing with pressure goes with the environment."

The Twickenham teams

England

M Cueto (Sale) 15

M Banahan (Bath) 14

D Hipkiss (Leicester) 13

A Erinle (Biarritz) 12

U Monye (Quins) 11

J Wilkinson (Toulon) 10

P Hodgson (L Irish) 9

T Payne (Wasps) 1

D Hartley (N'ton) 2

D Bell (Bath) 3

S Shaw (Wasps) 4

S Borthwick (Sarries, c) 5

J Worsley (Wasps) 6

L Moody (Leicester) 7

J Haskell (Stade Fr) 8

Replacements: S Thompson (Brive), D Wilson (Bath), L Deacon (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins), S Geraghty (N'ton), M Tait (Sale)

All Blacks

M Muliaina (Chiefs) 15

Z Guildford (H'canes) 14

C Smith (Hurricanes) 13

M Nonu (Hurricanes) 12

S Sivivatu (Chiefs) 11

D Carter (Crusaders) 10

J Cowan (H'landers) 9

T Woodcock (Blues) 1

A Hore (Hurricanes) 2

O Franks (Crusaders) 3

B Thorn (Crusaders) 4

T Donnelly (H'lnders) 5

A Thomson (H'lnders) 6

R McCaw (C'saders, c) 7

K Read (Crusaders) 8

Replacements: C Flynn (Crusaders), A de Malmanche (Chiefs), J Afoa, A Boric, J Kaino (all Blues), A Ellis (Crusaders), S Donald (Chiefs), T Ellison (Hurricanes)

Referee: J Kaplan (SA)

Kick-off: Sat 2.30pm

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