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Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Coach Martin Johnson hails his 'best' England squad

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Club form not a problem - Johnson

England coach Martin Johnson has described his Six Nations squad as the best he has had during his tenure.

England produced a series of uninspired November Test displays against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

But Johnson, who has only six wins from 14 Tests since taking charge in April 2008, is optimistic ahead of his side's opener against Wales on 6 February.

"This is the best squad we have had in my time being in charge," said the 2003 World Cup winner.

"We have a good leadership group and it's the strength of any side that you have three, four or five guys who could be captain."

Johnson initially named his squad without a captain but has since decided on Saracens lock Steve Borthwick, despite criticism of the player's performances. And Johnson's comments at the official launch of this year's Six Nations further indicate that he may be prepared to change his skipper during the tournament.

"With guys like Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody, Nick Easter, Simon Shaw and Mark Cueto we are starting to have a core group of leaders," he said.

Anyone who predicts who will win the title is a brave guy

England manager Martin Johnson

Johnson has key players Delon Armitage, Riki Flutey and Toby Flood back from injuries for the Twickenham match against the Welsh.

And he is further boosted by the addition of promising youngsters Courtney Lawes, Dan Cole, Matt Mullan and Ben Foden into the squad.

"We are starting to add a bit of depth to our group, more than ever before. There is competition throughout and that is what you need," added Johnson.

Johnson said he would have no qualms about involving young props Mullan and Cole in the Championship opener against Wales, who are likely to field their all-Lions front row of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones.

"We have had our eyes on Matt for quite a while," the manager said. "He is an exciting young player who probably would have been involved in the autumn games but for injury.

"He is very mobile, has a huge work-rate and we think he is capable of being involved in the campaign.

"Dan has been given his chance with Leicester this year and has shown huge potential. He is a very strong guy who is pretty mobile as well and he is getting better all the time. They are both ready for it."

606: DEBATE

While either, or both, could find themselves involved in the opening matches against Wales at Twickenham and Italy in Rome, Johnson revealed veteran Leicester tight-head Julian White could return for the later matches, even if loose-head Andrew Sheridan will miss the whole tournament.

"Julian is essentially fit now but he is coming back from a serious injury and he has only played 20 minutes so far," said Johnson. "He needs some game time.

"Andrew won't be fit to play Test rugby before the end of the Six Nations."

Meanwhile, Johnson dismissed suggestions that English clubs' struggles in Europe this season bode badly for his team's chances in the Six Nations.

Northampton are the only Guinness Premiership club to have qualified for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup.

However, the former Leicester captain insisted: "In an ideal world we'd have three or four teams there [in the quarter-finals] because it is good for the players, but we haven't.

"Some guys have come into camp disappointed from the weekend but they get into England mode very quickly and they are happy to be back together as a group.

"Last year the French clubs didn't have a particularly good time of it in Europe but the Six Nations games were very close. This year they will be very close.

"Anyone who predicts who will win the title is a brave guy."



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see also
England boosted by Haskell return
26 Jan 10 |  English
Borthwick keeps England captaincy
25 Jan 10 |  English
Easter backs Borthwick as captain
20 Jan 10 |  English
Ashton & Hape earn England calls
13 Jan 10 |  English
Vickery set to miss Six Nations
08 Jan 10 |  English
Wales release seven for LV= games
26 Jan 10 |  Welsh
Phillips amazed at Wales call-up
26 Jan 10 |  Welsh
Wales deny Peel selection issue
25 Jan 10 |  Welsh
Jeremy Guscott Q&A
11 Jan 10 |  Rugby Union
England 6-19 New Zealand
21 Nov 09 |  English
England 16-9 Argentina
14 Nov 09 |  English


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