Sunday 26 January 2020

Johnson keeps faith with Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson
Jonny Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson has been retained in an unchanged England team for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations showdown with Ireland at Twickenham, despite concerns over his form and fitness.

The Toulon fly-half was criticised for his lack of attacking ambition following England's one-dimensional 17-12 victory over Italy 10 days ago.

Wilkinson missed training on Monday with "muscle tightness" - but he has withstood pressure from Toby Flood to be entrusted once again as England's playmaker.

The only changes to the match 22 are on the bench with the return of flanker Joe Worsley, who has recovered from a knee injury, in place of Steffon Armitage.

Hooker Lee Mears has replaced Steve Thompson and full-back Ben Foden returns in place of prop Matt Mullan as England revert to a four-three split on the bench.

By naming an unchanged starting team, Johnson has given a vote of confidence not only to Wilkinson but to the side that underperformed in Rome.

Johnson watched Flood - a more natural runner and distributor of the ball - play a key role in Leicester's victory over Gloucester at the weekend.

But Johnson indicated as early as last week that a change was not on the cards, when he launched into a vigorous defence of Wilkinson's all-round contribution.

Whatever his perceived weaknesses, Wilkinson is the leading points scorer in world rugby and is arguably the toughest defensive fly-half ever to play the game.

England team: D Armitage (London Irish); M Cueto (Sale Sharks), M Tait (Sale Sharks), R Flutey (Brive), U Monye (Harlequins); J Wilkinson (Toulon), D Care (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Saracens, captain), J Haskell (Stade Francais), L Moody (Leicester), N Easter (Harlequins).

PA Media

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