Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Johnson confident in England replacements

Martin Johnson is convinced England have the resources to overcome an injury crisis that has left them staggering towards their autumn schedule.

The withdrawal from the senior squad of Harlequins number eight Nick Easter due to a calf injury has robbed England of virtually half their first-choice team for the entire series.

It is an astonishing casualty list that is lengthened further by a series of knocks to players such as Simon Shaw and Olly Morgan, leaving their participation in doubt.

But Johnson is adamant England will still be competitive against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand next month.

"The whole squad is looking forward to three very tough games in November," he said.

"We've had to make a number of changes to the senior EPS because of injuries but we have strength in depth.

"Each of the players coming in has the opportunity to push themselves into contention for the opener against Australia."

Easter's place in the 32 has been taken by exciting Northampton prospect Courtney Lawes, who is one of three uncapped players alongside Bath prop David Barnes and Leicester second row Richard Blaze.

Lawes, an athletic second or back row, has been one of the Guinness Premiership's form players this season and is enjoying a rapid rise up the ranks.

Only last June the physical 20-year-old was part of the England Under-20 team that lost to New Zealand in the final of the Junior World Cup.

In total Johnson has made 11 like-for-like changes to the Elite Player Squad he named during the summer, but there is no direct replacement for the injured Julian White.

Instead Stade Francais number eight James Haskell has been included to complete the 32, ending fears he had compromised his international career by moving to France.

World Cup winners Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson return, as does bath prop Duncan Bell who won both his caps under Andy Robinson four years ago.

The versatile Northampton back Ben Foden has come in for Morgan while Richard Wigglesworth of Sale takes Harry Ellis' spot.

Winger David Strettle, fly-half Andy Goode and Shane Geraghty also return while lock Steve Borthwick has been confirmed as skipper for series.