Nick Easter to captain England against Samoa

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The Independent Online

Nick Easter will captain England in Saturday's Investec Test against Samoa after manager Martin Johnson made four changes from the team that beat Australia.

Leeds openside flanker Hendre Fourie has been handed his first Test start in place of regular captain Lewis Moody, who has been given a week's rest.

Matt Banahan, who won his previous five caps on the wing, has been preferred to Delon Armitage as Mike Tindall's outside centre replacement.

Blindside flanker James Haskell, who has not featured yet this autumn, and tight-head prop David Wilson will both start, with Tom Croft and Dan Cole moved to the bench for England's first meeting with Samoa since the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

Otherwise, Johnson has retained the core of the team that sealed a record 35-18 victory over the Wallabies last Saturday.

Easter has previously captained England in non-cap internationals against the Barbarians in 2008 and at the end of last season but he has never led his country into a Test match.

Johnson's biggest call this week was at outside centre. Armitage provided cover for the position in England's recent back-to-back victories over the Wallabies.

But England's attack coach Brian Smith has long identified Banahan, already a lock-turned-wing, as a potential Test-class outside centre.

Banahan will form an all-Bath midfield partnership with Shontayne Hape, while Leicester pair Ben Youngs and Toby Flood continue in the half-backs.

Tom Palmer and Courtney Lawes get the chance to further their blossoming second row partnership, with Dave Attwood back on the bench and poised to win his second cap.

Johnson was unsurprisingly keen to put Saturday's victory behind them to focus on producing a professional performance against unfancied Samoa.

"It's about picking the best team to play this week against Samoa," he said.

"They are a very dangerous side and could have won that game against Ireland at the weekend. They have got our full attention this week for this game."

Johnson is satisfied Banahan is ready to excel at outside centre.

"He's played a number of Test matches on the wing and done very well," said the England boss. "As a young player he has learned what it is to come in and be a Test player. His condition is far better than it has been.

"The physical side is obvious but I think he has skills as well which people maybe underestimate.

"He's been very, very keen and has practised very well."

Johnson was particularly happy with Saturday's performance as the culmination of long-term improvement.

He said: "The good thing is that we played well in the last game and have done okay in the game before that (26-16 defeat by New Zealand). The team is doing well but we want to keep the continuity and we've seen the rewards of that.

"We don't want to break it up too much.

"The performance (against Australia) didn't come out of the clouds, it was a build-up of what we've been doing for a while.

"We had a good day, we could have scored more tries and they could have scored more tries. But it's nice as a coach not to be talking about 'if onlys' after a game."

England team to play Samoa at Twickenham on Saturday, November 20; kick-off 2.30pm:

B Foden (Northampton); C Ashton (Northampton), M Banahan (Bath), S Hape (Bath), M Cueto (Sale); T Flood (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); A Sheridan (Sale), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), C Lawes (Northampton), T Palmer (Stade Francais), J Haskell (Stade Francais), H Fourie (Leeds), N Easter (Harlequins, capt).

Replacements: S Thompson (Leeds), D Cole (Leicester), D Attwood (Gloucester), T Croft (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins), C Hodgson (Sale), D Armitage (London Irish).