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Jeremy Guscott column

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England & Lions centre

Toby Flood trains with England on Wednesday
Flood can increase the tempo when England have possession

I think Martin Johnson has missed an opportunity to create an atmosphere of competition within the England squad by only making one change to his line-up for Saturday's Six Nations game against Ireland.

Leicester fly-half Toby Flood has been handed the number 10 jersey in place of Brive's Andy Goode, but Johnson could have gone further for the Dublin encounter.

Every player in the England team needs to feel that their place in the team is under threat should they underperform.

It was an obvious choice to replace Goode with Flood because when he came on against Wales the tempo of England's play changed for the better and they looked better equipped to attack with some imagination - he made a difference and deserves to start.

But leaving Nick Easter at number eight suggests to me that you can perform below par and still remain in the team, which is negative and will leave players de-motivated.

Tom Croft should have been brought into the back row to replace Harlequins number eight Easter, who to my mind has been pretty ineffectual.

Croft would have added some pace which would make England more competitive against what is a really rampant Irish back row.

To stop the Irish you have to smash Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip and David Wallace before they get momentum, but Easter is the type of player who will stand and wait, rather than charge up in their faces, and that will benefit Ireland.

Nick Easter on the attack for England in the defeat by Wales
Easter needs to up his game if he wants to retain his place

However, with Flood at fly-half I expect to see the ball in the hands of England's pace men - Paul Sackey, Delon Armitage and Mark Cueto - more often than has been the case so far.

Sackey is the man in form and they have to give him opportunities to score if England are to have any chance at all of upsetting the odds.

I am praying that we will also see a resurgence of form from loose-head prop Andrew Sheridan because for me he is another player not performing to his best.

A man of his power and fitness should be destroying opposition scrums and causing huge problems in the loose by running at pace and making opposition defences work hard to contain him.

But the key area looks like being the back row and I want to see the England back row play like the Irish and be involved as much in attack as defence.

Joe Worsley, Easter and James Haskell need to play the games of their lives just to stay ahead of the Irish trio.

If England manage to compete in this very competitive area then they stand a chance of winning.

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Jeremy Guscott column
24 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union

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