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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 14:30 GMT
Balshaw replaces Tait for England
Iain Balshaw
Balshaw won the last of his 30 caps against Scotland in 2007
England coach Brian Ashton has sprung a surprise by drafting in Iain Balshaw at full-back for their Six Nations opener with Wales at Twickenham on Saturday.

Balshaw, 28, gets the nod over Mathew Tait, who played at centre in the World Cup final but was expected to replace the retired Jason Robinson at 15.

Tait is dropped from the 22, while Mike Tindall is at centre and Luke Narraway makes his debut at number eight.

Tonga-born rugby league convert Lesley Vainikolo starts on the bench.

In all, Ashton has made seven changes to the side that started England's last match, the 15-6 World Cup final defeat against South Africa in Paris in October.

Up front, Narraway replaces the injured Nick Easter, James Haskell comes in at blind-side flanker for the retired Martin Corry and Steve Borthwick starts at lock instead of Ben Kay.

The Six Nations is not a place to put a developing player into an exposed position like full-back

England coach Brian Ashton

Behind the scrum, Toby Flood plays inside Tindall in the midfield and wing David Strettle replaces Mark Cueto, who had a try disallowed in the World Cup final.

Ashton admitted he was a "massive fan" of the 21-year-old Tait but said the experienced Tindall offered a more "direct threat" at centre and insisted the young Falcons star was still learning the full-back role.

"He's played some good rugby there but he's played some rugby that, by his own admission, is not quite so good," said Ashton.

"I'm not convinced that the Six Nations is a place to put a developing player into such an exposed position as full-back. He's not on the bench because we've got [Dan] Cipriani who can cover 10 and 15 and Vainikolo is the impact player."

The 24-year-old Narraway was left out of Ashton's initial Six Nations training squad but was summoned to Twickenham last week as injury cover for Easter, who has failed to recover from a knee problem.

Narraway's a good footballer, a good defender, a good line-out forward - he's a tough guy

Brian Ashton

"Luke knows we've got a couple of injuries in the back row - Nick Easter, Joe Worsley and Tom Croft aren't available - and he was next on the list in the England Saxons side," said Ashton.

"He's come up, he's made a good impression on us and we think it gives us the balance that we want in our back row playing at number eight.

"He's a very good footballer, he's a pretty good defender, he's a good line-out forward - he's a tough guy.

"Given the platform, hopefully, that we can have in front of him with our front five, then we'll be able to see his footballing ability at the weekend."

Wasps lock Simon Shaw is fit again after an ankle injury, Lewis Moody retains his position as open-side flanker and Andrew Sheridan, Mark Regan and captain Phil Vickery again form the front row.

Veteran hooker Regan, who was 36 on Monday, was selected after shaking off a shoulder injury sustained at the weekend.

He will become the oldest front-row forward to appear in the Five/Six Nations since Charlie Faulkner played for Wales in 1979 just before his 38th birthday.

"Even he, despite his optimistic outlook on life, won't expect to be playing at the 2011 World Cup but there's a method in it," said Ashton.

"We're now looking at the next phase of English rugby which for me is the Six Nations. He still merits a place in the starting XV because of the attributes - both in terms of the technical side and the other attributes - that he brings to the game."

606: DEBATE

Jonny Wilkinson will play at fly-half ahead of rising star Dan Cipriani, who starts on the bench, but Ashton admitted the decision was not straightforward.

"We had a lot of discussion about this but I felt that one of the things we need is some stability, continuity and experience from our World Cup campaigners and Jonny is by far the most experienced 10 we've got," said Ashton.

"He knows, as well as we all do, that there are some young pretenders pretty close on his heels."

Tindall and Strettle both return after injury kept them out of the World Cup, while Paul Sackey retains his place on the wing after a bout of the mumps.

"In the Premiership this season they [Strettle and Sackey] have been the form wingers, no doubt about that," said Ashton.

"Neither are very experienced as international wingers but both are pretty electrifying with ball in hand and no mean defenders either, so I'm looking for exciting times from them."

Balshaw won the last of his 30 England caps against South Africa on last year's summer tour but he was left out of the World Cup party.

He was a member of the World Cup-winning squad in 2003 and toured Australia with the Lions in 2001 but a string of injuries has limited his international appearances.

Paul Hodgson (knee), Louis Deacon (groin) and Tom Croft (shoulder) were not considered because of injury.

Ashton was already without scrum-half Peter Richards (biceps) for the entire tournament, and Joe Worsley (neck) for the first two matches.


England: Iain Balshaw (Gloucester), Paul Sackey (Wasps), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Toby Flood (Newcastle), David Strettle (Harlequins), Jonny Wilkinson (Newcastle), Andy Gomarsall (Harlequins); Andrew Sheridan (Sale), Mark Regan (Bristol), Phil Vickery (Wasps), Simon Shaw (Wasps), Steve Borthwick (Bath), James Haskell (Wasps), Lewis Moody (Leicester), Luke Narraway (Gloucester).
Subs: Lee Mears (Bath), Matt Stevens (Bath), Ben Kay (Leicester), Tom Rees (Wasps), Richard Wigglesworth (Sale), Dan Cipriani (Wasps), Lesley Vainikolo (Gloucester).


SEE ALSO
Richards ruled out of Six Nations
23 Jan 08 |  London Irish
Guscott backs Wilkinson to shine
23 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
England arrange All Blacks Test
23 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Richards set to miss Six Nations
22 Jan 08 |  London Irish
Cipriani wants Wilkinson's place
22 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Vainikolo spirit lifted by return
21 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Vainikolo named in England squad
09 Jan 08 |  English


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