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Jeremy Guscott column

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England & Lions centre

Let's make no mistake. England boss Martin Johnson has picked a team purely to beat Italy - forget planning for the future.

Andy Goode points the way for his French club Brive
Goode has been brought in to help England find some direction

It was a shock to see Andy Goode selected at fly-half for Saturday's Six Nations opener, but Toby Flood is injured and Danny Cipriani didn't deserve to be picked.

However, I would have gone for Shane Geraghty in the number 10 shirt.

If he's fit enough to be on the bench, then he's fit enough to start and I think the London Irish man would release the backline better than I believe Goode will.

Goode will do a job, though. After all, he's the leading points scorer in the French Top 14 this season.

My only doubt about Goode - and I'm not bothered that he hasn't played for England for couple of seasons or only has nine caps - is his temperament.

Can he deliver under pressure?

When he was playing in big games for his former club Leicester things sometimes didn't go his way and he needs to prove he can handle the big time.

And this is a big occasion for Goode because, if he plays well then he's in against Wales and he could be in for the championship.

We don't possess world class players like Wales and Ireland do - we are a mid-table international team

He has done well with Brive since moving there in the summer and French club rugby suits him because it is very forward-orientated.

In fact, it is not much different from playing for Leicester (and I mean that in a good way, Tigers fans!).

England will not be looking to do anything fancy against Italy. They will aim to pressurise the Azzurri, kick the resulting penalties and play the game in Italy's half of the pitch.

The only problem with that is that Italy's pack is becoming a challenge to most international teams, let alone a side lacking confidence, such as England.

I expect Italy to give a really good account of themselves and they'll go into Saturday's game thinking 'we stand one hell of a chance'.


Let's be blunt; you look at the England team and fancy some Premiership sides to turn them over.

Some England players need to play over and above how they have done so far and they will have to have found a psychologist who can work miracles in the last couple of months for that to happen.

This selection is a sign of the times because we're no longer a nation that has strength in depth.

We don't possess world-class players like Wales and Ireland do - we are a mid-table international team - so Johnson's problem is that he does not have a huge amount of choice.

I have mentioned in previous columns that I would like to see the likes of Jon Clarke, Mathew Tait and James Simpson-Daniel feature.

For me, the latter two especially are the future of English back play and the fact they are not starting at Twickenham shows a lack of ambition from Johnson.

I'm not sure how long he can go without playing them.

Steffon (left) and Delon Armitage pose for the cameras at an England training session
Steffon (left) will start alongside brother Delon on Saturday

One player who has been given a chance is London Irish open-side flanker Steffon Armitage.

He will make his debut but, again, a lot of that is down to the loss of other players through injury - in this case Tom Rees, Lewis Moody and Michael Lipman.

But Armitage is big enough, he's a great ball player and he'll get stuck into the Italian pack. I think he'll have a great debut.

Mark Cueto deserves his place on the wing because he's shown some great form and with him, Mike Tindall and Goode, there are some wise, old heads in the backs.

It's good that Ben Foden's in the squad and if you look at the backline talent on the bench in Foden, Geraghty and Tait it looks exciting - I would love to seem them come on.

The players who take the field on Saturday have a great chance because, if they win, the team will not be broken up too much but it is without a doubt a side picked purely to win this game.

Jeremy Guscott was talking to James Standley.

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see also
Heineken Cup photos
24 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Review - 2008 Six Nations season
02 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union
Jeremy Guscott column
26 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Ospreys relish 'formidable' task
26 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Dates set for Heineken last eight
27 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Bath 3-3 Toulouse
24 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Leinster 12-3 Edinburgh
25 Jan 09 |  Leinster
Montauban 13-39 Munster
25 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Ospreys 15-9 Leicester
24 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Harlequins 29-24 Scarlets
24 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Leicester 24-22 Bath
04 Jan 09 |  English
Leicester 12-15 Bath
01 Apr 06 |  European Club

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