Johnson responds to autumn hammerings

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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson reacted to the "harsh lessons" dished out to England through the autumn Test series by injecting experience and a sharper cutting edge into his revised squad for the RBS 6 Nations.

Northampton's uncapped Ben Foden and Gloucester full-back Olly Morgan have both been rewarded for their blistering club form this season with promotions to the 32-man elite squad.

And Johnson has also recalled seasoned campaigners Mike Tindall and the Sale winger Mark Cueto, whose last England appearance was in the 2007 World Cup final.

Their presence alone will help fill the void of experience around captain Steve Borthwick that Australia, South Africa and New Zealand exposed so ruthlessly in the autumn.

Johnson believes England also paid a heavy price for failing to convert their try-scoring opportunities against the southern hemisphere big guns - hence the decision to make four of his five permitted changes in the backs.

Morgan has arguably been the outstanding player in the Guinness Premiership this season while Johnson believes Foden's time has now arrived. Both are proven try-scorers and outstanding finishers.

Foden has replaced Pete Richards to be listed as England's third scrum-half but he can also slot into full-back and offers the same kind of variety as Johnson's old team-mate Austin Healey.

"Foden is instinctive, a very good player and a fantastic athlete as well," said Johnson.

"The main thing about him is his ability. He is a fantastic attacking rugby player. We wanted to get him into the squad at some point and felt now is the right time to do it.

"It is pretty unusual for guys to have such a range of positions. Pete Richards could do it. Austin Healey could do it.

"They are valuable to their clubs in their versatility and they are valuable to us in putting a squad together.

"I agree it is better if these guys specialise. They all want to start Test matches and we need to let them know where we think they can do that."

Foden could well find himself on the bench for England's opening game against Italy given Harry Ellis is currently suspended and will not have played a game before the tournament begins.

Foden said: "It's a real honour to have earned selection. I'm enjoying my rugby and just want to be on the field every week in whichever position I'm chosen."

Morgan's inclusion was rubber-stamped when it became clear the finger injury he suffered in Gloucester's defeat to Newcastle was only a dislocation and not a break as first feared.

Tindall was relegated to the Saxons squad after a disappointing summer tour but returns alongside Cueto, who has found a rich vein of try-scoring form for Sale over the last two months.

"I think the whole squad will be boosted by the return of players like Tindall, Cueto and Lewis Moody," said Johnson.

"They are in the squad because they are in good form but it helps that they are experienced as well."

Delon Armitage, Nick Easter and Ugo Monye have been confirmed as fully-fledged members of the elite squad after playing all four Tests in November while technically listed as injury cover.

Those who miss out include Gloucester duo Olly Barkley and James Simpson-Daniel, Leicester's Jordan Crane and Dan Hipkiss and Richards from London Irish.

All five drop into the Saxons squad for their two games against Portugal and Ireland A, where they are joined by Leicester's 36-year tight-head prop Julian White.

England's scrummaging was a major concern in the autumn and White's inclusion puts him in line for a promotion during the Six Nations should Johnson and scrum coach Graham Rowntree feel the need for experienced reinforcements.

There was no place for Exiles flanker Steffon Armitage but he is likely to benefit if Johnson calls in an injury replacement for Tom Rees, who is set to miss the first three games with knee ligament damage.

Johnson confirmed Borthwick as his captain and again backed the Saracens lock, who shouldered a heavy burden during the autumn.

"Steve is our captain going forward. In very difficult circumstances Steve did a very good job with the captaincy," said Johnson.

"It is easy being a captain when you are winning games and surrounded by experienced players. He didn't have that.

"We learned some harsh lessons in the autumn. We weren't good enough. We were disappointed in our performance level.

"We could have played better. The balance of the squad is better now. It is now about making sure we get the best out of this group."

England kick off their Six Nations campaign against Italy at Twickenham on February 7, and the squad will head to Portugal on January 25 for a week's training as part of their preparations.

Revised 32-man England senior elite player squad:

Backs: D Armitage (London Irish), D Care (Harlequins), D Cipriani (Wasps), M Cueto (Sale Sharks), H Ellis (Leicester), T Flood (Leicester), B Foden (Northampton), R Flutey (Wasps), S Geraghty (London Irish), U Monye (Harlequins), O Morgan (Gloucester), J Noon (Newcastle), P Sackey (Wasps), M Tait (Sale Sharks), M Tindall (Gloucester).

Forwards: S Borthwick (Saracens), G Chuter (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), N Easter (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), J Haskell (Wasps), N Kennedy (London Irish), L Mears (Bath), L Moody (Leicester), L Narraway (Gloucester), T Palmer (Wasps), T Payne (Wasps), T Rees (Wasps), S Shaw (Wasps), A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), M Stevens (Bath), P Vickery (Wasps).

England Saxons elite player squad:

Backs: N Abendanon (Bath), M Banahan (Bath), O Barkley (Gloucester), M Brown (Harlequins), D Hipkiss (Leicester), P Hodgson (London Irish), R Lamb (Gloucester), S Myler (Northampton), T Ojo (London Irish), P Richards (London Irish), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), D Strettle (Harlequins), J Turner-Hall (Harlequins), D Waldouck (Wasps), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks).

Forwards: S Armitage (London Irish), R Blaze (Leicester), J Crane (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), T Guest (Harlequins), B Kay (Leicester), M Lipman (Bath), M Mullan (Worcester), D Paice (London Irish), C Robshaw (Harlequins), G Skivington (Wasps), J Ward (Wasps), R Webber (Wasps), J White (Leicester), D Wilson (Newcastle), N Wood (Gloucester), J Worsley (Wasps).