Johnson talks up World Cup winners

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The Independent Online

England team manager Martin Johnson has hailed the impact of World Cup winners Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Thompson in the run up to Saturday's clash with Australia.

Johnson today named the Toulon fly-half and the Brive hooker in his side for the game at Twickenham amid a crippling injury crisis.

Both players were in the team which beat the Wallabies in the 2003 World Cup final in Sydney, with Wilkinson's drop goal memorably securing the trophy.

Asked what impact Wilkinson's return has made to the squad after his own well-documented fitness problems, Johnson told Sky Sports News: "He has just been Jonny Wilkinson. He gets on with what he does and does it very well.

"His leadership in the group has been fantastic, his communication with the players, and particularly the younger guys, and what he brings.

"These guys have seen what he has done over the last 10 years playing for England and it's a tremendous amount, so you can't really say too much more than that."

Johnson admitted he has not known an injury situation as severe as the one with which he is currently having to contend, but has at least been able to turn to Thompson, who had previously retired from the game with a neck injury.

The World Cup-winning captain said: "He did retire from the game and probably realised what he was missing and had the desire to come back.

"He has got himself into shape and has played pretty well and worked very hard. He has been fantastic with us this last 10 days, as he was in the summer.

"It's good to have that experience among some of the younger guys."

Johnson has included 20-year-old Northampton forward Courtney Lawes among the replacements, and believes the 6' 7" youngster, who can play in either the back or second row, has a big future at international level.

He said: "He can have an impact carrying the ball, he can have an impact defensively, his set-piece work is good.

"He's 20 years old and he has got a huge amount of potential to get even better.

"But we have put him on the bench to give him the opportunity to come off and make an impact for us if we think the time is right."