Martin Johnson has never been one to refer to a spade as an earth-moving implement. Standing on the second floor at Old Trafford yesterday, having overseen morning training out on the converted football pitch, the England manager was not getting all fanciful about the prospect of watching his team against Argentina this afternoon in Manchester United's celebrated Theatre of Dreams.
"It's a rectangle and we're going to have to play on it," he said. "The dead-ball area's smaller but it is what it is. It's the same for both teams."
Well, the former England second-row totem is a Liverpool fan. And he has explored the geometry of the Rectangle of Dreams as an England player. That was back in November 1997, in the formative days of the Clive Woodward era – and England finished on the suffering end of a 25-8 defeat against New Zealand. Johnson also finished on the wrong end of a one-Test ban, as a thank you for having let Justin Marshall know that he was straying offside once too often.
Twelve years on, his experimental England side square up to the nation that finished third in the 2007 World Cup. With nine players on Lions duty, the England manager gives Test match debuts to Matt Banahan on the left wing, Tom May at inside-centre and Davey Wilson at tight-head prop for the first of two contests against the Pumas, who will have home advantage in Salta a week today. "It's going to be ferocious tomorrow," Johnson forecast. "Argentina win games in the contact area and we've got to be up to that, otherwise we'll come second."
England: D Armitage (London Irish); M Cueto (Sale), D Hipkiss (Leicester), T May (Newcastle), M Banahan (Bath); A Goode (Brive), D Care (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Newcastle), S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), L Deacon (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), S Armitage (London Irish), N Easter (Harlequins). Replacements: S Thompson (Brive), J White (Leicester), B Kay (Leicester), J Crane (Leicester), C Hodgson (London Irish), S Vesty (Leicester), M Tait (Sale).
Argentina: H Agulla; G Camacho, M Avramovic, G Tiesi, F Aramburu; N Vergallo, J M Hernandez; R Roncero, A Basualdo, J Orlandi, M Carizza, P Albacete, A Galindo, J Leguizamon, J Lobbe (captain). Replacements: E Guinazu, M Ayerza, E Lozada, A Abadie, A Lalanne, S Fernandez, L Amorosino.
Referee: C Berdos (France).Reuse content