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England up kiwi input

England manager Martin Johnson has looked to rugby league converts Chris Ashton and Shontayne Hape to buoy up his backline after including the duo in his Elite Player Squad yesterday.

Prolific Northampton wing Ashton (22) the Premiership's top try scorer this season, is promoted from the Saxons, while former New Zealand international rugby league back Hape (28) is now eligible having switched codes and joined Bath in 2008.

There were recalls for Delon Armitage, Riki Flutey, Toby Flood and Nick Easter following injuries, but no place in the senior squad for Danny Cipriani or Shane Geraghty.

England start their Six Nations campaign against Wales at Twickenham on February 6, but exclusion from the squad has little bearing on selection and is more to do with giving the English RFU guaranteed access to players.

Hape qualifies via residency having lived in the country for six years and, with Flutey and hooker Dylan Hartley, he takes the squad's New Zealander count up to three.

Johnson, however, said it was attitude rather than nationality that mattered.

"It's what they do when they are there and the commitment they give to that team," he said at Twickenham.

"Riki has been one of our outstanding players and characters, Dylan Hartley too.

"I've played with guys born overseas all my career and it's about what they show -- you'd never doubt Mike Catt's commitment."

Hape won 14 New Zealand caps and spent five years playing for English rugby league club Bradford and, though previous converts such as Henry Paul, Lesley Vainikolo and Andy Farrell have struggled internationally, Johnson likes his all-round ability.

"His defence is outstanding," he said. "His ball play, ability to off-load and make good decisions mean it's fantastic to have him and we needed to get him in and have a look at him."

Hape will vie with Flutey for the inside centre position after Geraghty did not do enough in the November tests to convince Johnson as the team struggled for creativity.

Irish Independent