Johnson labours to find the right midfield mix

Experimentation? Martin Johnson never had the inclination, and now he doesn't have the time either. The seventh World Cup is less than a year away, so the prospects of the manager ripping things up and starting again at this stage in the game are on the distant side of remote. The vast majority of those who beat Australia last time out, in Sydney back in June, will take the field against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday, and unless something really drastic happens – a defeat of 25 points or more – they are likely to stay together for the meeting with the Wallabies a week later.

Andrew Sheridan of Sale will replace the jettisoned Tim Payne at loose-head prop, and there might have been further decisions to make had two Wasps, the centre Riki Flutey and the lock Simon Shaw, played a full part in training over the last eight days. But as both men are struggling with calf injuries, the red-rose staff were always likely to stick with Mike Tindall and Shontayne Hape in midfield, together with the incumbent engine room partnership of Tom Palmer and Courtney Lawes.

Hape has less of a kicking game than the World Cup-winning maestro Will Greenwood, who put boot to ball about twice a season, and is even less of a rugby genius. But at 6ft 2in and 16st-plus, the New Zealand-born player is substantial, and in the opinion of Johnson and his coaching colleagues, that's the main thing. They look at the other big beasts in the international jungle – Ma'a Nonu of the All Blacks, Jean de Villiers of South Africa, Jamie Roberts of Wales – and see a trio of outsized, non-kicking match-winners. "We've wanted one of those for ages, and now we've got one," they say.

An alternative might have been to use Tindall, a career 13, in the 12 position, where Gloucester currently play him in order to accommodate the promising Henry Trinder. That would have allowed Hape to relocate to outside centre, which is where he turns out for Bath – confusing, isn't it? - or opened up a space for Delon Armitage of London Irish, who is very much back in the selectors' good books after a miserable run of form last season. But Armitage wears the No 13 shirt about as often as the Chancellor of the Exchequer attends meetings of the Young Trotskyists. The notion of him pitting his wits against the brilliant Conrad Smith this weekend was not a reassuring one.

Midfield is a desperate problem, for even if Hape and Tindall can stack up physically against the best the incoming tourists have to offer, not even close family members would suggest they can live with them for pace. Yet Johnson and company seem to have decided that the only way to beat the southern hemisphere nations is to play the southern hemisphere way. It is a risky business, for sure: this season's Tri-Nations tournament produced almost six tries a game – an increase on the previous year of precisely 100 per cent – and it takes an imaginative leap of serious proportions to see England surviving in such an environment.

Various people were called in yesterday as "injury cover": England-speak for training-field extras, required because some members of the squad were suffering from the effects of the weekend Premiership matches. Lewis Moody, the captain, had 10 stitches in his head, while another back-rower, Joe Worsley of Wasps, had a dozen in a facial wound. Worsley's clubmate, the centre Dominic Waldouck, was suffering from neck trouble, as was Matt Banahan of Bath. As a result, the Northampton flankers Tom Wood and Phil Dowson, were summoned, as was the Leicester centre Anthony Allen and the Gloucester back James Simpson-Daniel.

Whatever the extent of England's problems, Wales were suffering more. The Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies was the latest to withdraw from the squad, giving best yesterday to the ankle problem he picked up last week, and thanks to a range of issues in the back row, the head coach Warren Gatland has summoned, as if from nowhere, the 19-year-old Newport Gwent Dragons flanker Toby Faletau, who ancestry is significantly more Tongan than it is Welsh.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power