Johnson opts for bold England team

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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson has cast off the shackles and named the boldest attacking team of his 18-month tenure for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations championship clash with Wales.

Mathew Tait makes his first England start at outside centre since the 2007 Rugby World Cup final and the livewire Harlequin Danny Care is restored at scrum-half.



Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey return to the team at full-back and inside centre respectively after England missed their attacking presence during a miserable autumn.



Nick Easter also returns at number eight as one of six changes to the team beaten by New Zealand in November.



Faced with an unprecedented injury list, Johnson's management team effectively went into damage limitation mode for the November series against Australia, Argentina and the All Blacks.



But that left England stilted and one-dimensional and they scored just one try in three Tests. All three nations left Twickenham claiming not to have been stretched.



Johnson has since acknowledged the mistakes made during the autumn and clearly shifted the emphasis for the Six Nations. The inclusion of Armitage, Tait and Care suggests England will attack Wales with pace.



Tait's career has come full circle since making his infamous international debut as a teenage centre against Wales' Grand Slam side of 2005.



Since then he has been shunted around the back line, filling on the wing and at fullback but never really given a run in his preferred 13 jersey except for at the 2007 World Cup.



Tait has made just one England start since the 2007 World Cup final - at full-back against New Zealand on the 2008 summer tour. His last eight caps have all been as a replacement.



When Johnson announced his Six Nations squad, he admitted Tait had been mis-used for too long - and told the 23-year-old now is the chance to cement his place in the England midfield.



"I have felt a bit for Tait. It can be a little convenient sometimes to stick him on the bench because he is utility. It is probably a time for him to challenge for that 13 spot," Johnson said last month.



England's biggest area of concern is the front row, where Wales boast an all-Lions Test unit in Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones.



Tim Payne has retained the loose-head jersey despite his recent struggles with Wasps and David Wilson returns at tight-head with Dylan Hartley at hooker. The uncapped Leicester prop Dan Cole is on the bench.



Johnson welcomed Flutey, Armitage and Easter back into the side after injury ruled them out of England's autumn plans.

"It is good to get them back," said Johnson.



"With Riki and Delon, we picked them all through last year and they took their chance.



"It was a blow to lose Riki in the autumn. He has trained really well over the last 10 days and fitted right back in.



"Nick's leadership has been vital for us. He is a strength in that area and it is nice to get him back into the group because he is playing well for Harlequins."



Tait offers England a sharper attacking midfield threat to Dan Hipkiss, who he has replaced, and Johnson is confident his defence is solid enough to deal with a Welsh midfield set to include Jamie Roberts.



"There has always been a lot of speculation with Mat. Last season he had his injury issues and he then fitted on to the bench in the Six Nations," said Johnson.



"It is a close call. He is a different player to Dan Hipkiss but he has a good all round game. His defence is under-rated."



Johnson confirmed Northampton's promising lock Courtney Lawes was not considered because of a slight groin injury.





England team to play Wales in the RBS 6 Nations championship at Twickenham on Saturday, kick-off 5pm:

D Armitage (London Irish); M Cueto (Sale Sharks), M Tait (Sale Sharks), R Flutey (Brive), U Monye (Harlequins); J Wilkinson (Toulon), D Care (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), J Haskell (Stade Francais), L Moody (Leicester), N Easter (Harlequins).



Replacements: S Thompson (Brive), D Cole (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), S Armitage (London Irish), P Hodgson (London Irish), T Flood (Leicester), B Foden (Northampton).

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