Hape handed England debut

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The Independent Online

Bath centre Shontayne Hape will make his England Test debut in Saturday's Cook Cup clash with Australia at the Subiaco Oval in Perth.

Hape takes over at inside centre from the injured Riki Flutey and he is one of four changes from the England team that started the final Six Nations game against France.

Hooker Steve Thompson and lock Tom Palmer both start after coming off the bench in Paris while there is a return to the England team for Leicester flanker Tom Croft.

Much to the surprise of the Wallabies, Jonny Wilkinson remains on the bench with Toby Flood retained at fly-half while Danny Care has held off the challenge from scrum-half rival Ben Youngs.

Leicester hooker George Chuter and Northampton lock Courtney Lawes have both been included on the bench.

England are chasing their first victory over the Wallabies on Australian soil since the 2003 World Cup final - and only their third ever.

Hape will become the third former New Zealand rugby league international to play for England, following in the footsteps of Henry Paul and Lesley Vainikolo.

The 29-year-old who won 14 caps for the Kiwis has been on England's radar since switching codes to sign for Bath in 2008.

Hape was in line to make his Test debut against Wales during the Six Nations, just weeks after qualifying for England on residency grounds, before falling ill on the eve of the game.

"I have been very impressed with him. He's a very smart carrier with the ball in hand. He's one of those guys that seems to have a bit more time than most, he's very composed," said England manager Martin Johnson.

Hape made his first England appearance in the non-cap game against the Barbarians at Twickenham before the squad left for Australia and has been preferred at inside centre to Bath team-mate Olly Barkley.

Elsewhere, Thompson came on tour as first-choice hooker after Dylan Hartley was ruled out of the five-match trip through injury while Palmer impressed off the bench in Paris at the end of March.

Croft, a star of the Lions tour 12 months ago, returns to the back row after missing the Six Nations with a knee injury.

Johnson dismissed the suggestion that England had picked a defensive midfield combination of Hape and Mike Tindall.

"Shontayne and Mike are both very skilful players. Shontayne is very direct, he has a very good passing game and he is a good attacker," he said.

"Shontayne has been in the squad since January. He missed out on getting a game in the Six Nations with illness and we didn't get a chance to get him in after that.

"Riki is not here and this is a good opportunity for him."

Australia enter the game with a rookie front row boasting just two caps and one start between them following an injury crisis that has robbed Wallaby coach Robbie Deans of his first-choice unit.

England demolished the Wallaby scrum in the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final but props Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander have helped transform the Australian set-piece.

England enjoyed the edge up front against the Australian Barbarians on Tuesday and will be expected to dominate in that area this weekend.

But Johnson knows from the autumn Test series, when England suffered their own propping shortage, that nothing can be taken for granted.

"It is rare to get domination in a Test match. We worked very hard to get an edge on Tuesday," he said.

"We have had our problems, they have got there's but I am sure they will all be revved up to have a go."

Johnson confirmed that Gloucester lock Dave Attwood had been available for selection after he had two charges of alleged stamping dismissed on a technicality.

"We have spoken to Dave, it is closed in our minds. Dave is available for selection," Johnson confirmed.

England team to play Australia at the Subiaco Oval in Perth on Saturday June 12, kick-off 11am BST:

B Foden (Northampton); M Cueto (Sale Sharks), M Tindall (Gloucester), S Hape (Bath), C Ashton (Northampton); T Flood (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), S Thompson (Brive), D Cole (Leicester), S Shaw (Wasps), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Croft (Leicester), L Moody (Leicester, capt), N Easter (Harlequins).

Replacements: G Chuter (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath), C Lawes (Northampton), J Haskell (Stade Francais), B Youngs (Leicester), J Wilkinson (Toulon), M Tait (Sale Sharks).