Shaw back to beef up England

Johnson hands recall to 36-year-old lock to add weight for French test
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It is a mighty long time since England felt the need to bulk up against the French: probably not since the mid-1970s, when the tricolore pack boasted such delicate little charmers as the heavyweight boxer Gerard Cholley and the lock Jean-François Imbernon, who liked to be known as "The Godfather". But for this weekend's Six Nations meeting at Twickenham, where defeat is simply not an option for the home side, Martin Johnson has ordered extra helpings of beef.

He could have kept faith with the new second-row pairing of Steve Borthwick and Nick Kennedy, who between them possess the level of line-out expertise necessary to neutralise the ball-winning threat of Imanol Harinordoquy, the extraordinarily athletic Basque back-rower. Instead, he has recalled Simon Shaw at the tender age of 36. Shaw replaces Kennedy in the engine room, much to Kennedy's exasperation.

Johnson might equally have given Mathew Tait, the most threatening of England's broken-field runners, a first start of the tournament after doing away with Paul Sackey, whose disappearance from the match-day squad has as much to do with poor form as it has with questionable fitness. But Tait finds himself manacled to the bench for the umpteenth time. The bigger, more forceful Ugo Monye will fill the vacancy, returning to the left-wing role he performed throughout the pre-Christmas international programme, with Mark Cueto switching flanks.

The manager acknowledged that Kennedy had done little wrong, although he identified a couple of areas – the breakdown being the most obvious – where there was room for improvement. Johnson was harder on Sackey, openly stating that he considered the Wasps wing to be "off his game", adding that while Tait's claims had been discussed, the urge to pick a specialist wing had swung it Monye's way. The French wide men, Julien Malzieu and Cedric Heymans, are hardly the smallest, and there is a clear logic to fighting size with size, but Tait's sense of frustration must now be nearing boiling point. England are in serious danger of frittering away a rare and valuable attacking resource.

Shaw, first drafted into an England party 15 years ago, has not started an international match since last season's Six Nations, and his reappearance has had a knock-on effect in the back row, where Tom Croft replaces James Haskell on the blind-side flank. Croft is a better line-out option than his rival contender for the No 6 shirt, and quicker round the field as well. Had England stuck with the loose combination that played in Dublin a week ago last Saturday – Haskell, Joe Worsley, Nick Easter – they might easily have found themselves operating in a different half of the pitch to Harinordoquy and the brilliant Thierry Dusautoir. By tinkering in this department, Johnson has at least chosen a player capable of matching the tricolores in the straight-line speed department.

On the subject of the players under most heat from the public prints – Borthwick, Toby Flood and Danny Care – the manager was as unshakeable as he was immovable. All three, in his view, are going concerns, despite the vast tonnage of criticism piled upon them. "Steve is our captain," said Johnson, in a tone that suggested this was unlikely to change in the immediate future. "No, we didn't consider leaving him out; yes, I think he's doing tremendous job for us, sometimes in very difficult circumstances." And Flood? "I thought he played pretty well in Dublin," the manager said, rejecting out of hand a suggestion that the Leicester outside-half had performed with less than complete authority.

When the conversation turned to the fraught topic of discipline – or rather, the complete lack of it – Care inevitably received a dishonourable mention, thanks to his yellow-card antics at Croke Park.

"Danny is an important player for us," Johnson insisted by way of justifying his decision to retain the Harlequins scrum-half among the replacements, rather than whistle up Ben Foden or Paul Hodgson. "He made a mistake in Dublin [in barging the Ireland prop Marcus Horan off the ball] and it had dire consequences for him and the team. I don't suppose he'll do anything like that ever again." Might England be more successful in staying on the right side of the law this time round? "Well, there have been a few penalties given away in training," said the manager, wryly.

France will head across the Channel with a side showing four changes, one positional, from that which started the victory over Wales 13 days ago. François Trinh-Duc, the Montpellier outside-half, replaces the injured Benoît Baby, who was no one's idea of an outside-half anyway; Lionel Faure comes into the front row; Jérôme Thion plays in the second row alongside the captain Lionel Nallet; and Sébastien Chabal moves from lock to flanker in place of Fulgence Ouedraogo.

England v France: Twickenham teams


D Armitage (L Irish) 15

M Cueto (Sale) 14

M Tindall (Gloucs) 13

R Flutey (Wasps) 12

U Monye (H'quins) 11

T Flood (Leicester) 10

H Ellis (Leicester) 9

A Sheridan (Sale) 1

L Mears (Bath) 2

P Vickery (Wasps) 3

S Shaw (Wasps) 4

S Borthwick (S'cens) 5

T Croft (Leicester) 6

J Worsley (Wasps) 7

N Easter (H'quins) 8

Replacements D Hartley (N'hmptn), J White (Leics), N Kennedy (L Irish), J Haskell (Wasps), D Care (H'quins), A Goode (Brive), M Tait (Sale).


M Medard (T'louse) 15

J Malzieu (Clerm't) 14

M Bastareaud (SF) 13

Y Jauzion (T'louse) 12

C Heymans (T'louse) 11

F Trinh-Duc (M'pel) 10

M Parra (Bourgoin) 9

L Faure (Sale) 1

D Szarzewski (SF) 2

S Marconnet (SF) 3

L Nallet (Castres) 4

J Thion (Biarritz) 5

T Dusautoir (T'louse) 6

S Chabal (Sale) 7

I Harinordoquy (B'tz) 8

Replacements B Kayser (Leics), T Domingo (Clermont), L Picamoles (M'pellier), J Bonnaire (Clermont), S Tillous-Borde (Castres), F Fritz (T'louse), D Traille (Biarritz).

Referee S Dickinson (Aus)

Venue Twickenham

Kick-off: Sunday, 15.00

Television: BBC 1, 14.30