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Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

England keep unchanged team for Ireland contest

RBS SIX NATIONS: England v Ireland
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 27 February 2010 Kick-off: 1600 GMT
Coverage: Watch on BBC One, BBC HD channel, Red Button and online; listen on Radio 5 live; text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobiles


Wilkinson shrugs off criticism

England manager Martin Johnson has named an unchanged team for Saturday's Six Nations clash against defending champions Ireland at Twickenham.

Johnson has decided to stick with the same XV that limped to an uninspiring 17-12 victory over Italy last time out.

That means Jonny Wilkinson retains his place, despite concerns over the Toulon fly-half's form and fitness.

On the bench, hooker Lee Mears, flanker Joe Worsley and full-back Ben Foden are named among the replacements.

They replace hooker Steve Thompson, flanker Steffon Armitage and prop Matt Mullan, with Johnson reverting to a four-three split in the substitutes.

Everyone is pointing fingers at Jonny but it is a team issue

England manager Martin Johnson

Worsley returns to the match-day 22 after recovering from a knee injury.

Wilkinson missed training on Monday with "muscle tightness" but the problem was never seriously expected to rule him out for this weekend.

The 30-year-old is the top points-scorer in this season's tournament - not to mention in the history of Test rugby union - but has been strongly criticised for failing to get England's backline firing on all cylinders.

Last week, England's World Cup-winning scrum-half Matt Dawson claimed Wilkinson's inability to marshal a game and react to situations as they happen is being exposed without more experienced decision-makers around him

But Johnson responded by fiercely defending Wilkinson and has decided to retain the Toulon half-back, despite watching fly-half contender Toby Flood steer Leicester to victory over Gloucester at the weekend.."


"Everyone is pointing fingers at Jonny but it is a team issue," said Johnson.

"We had a good chat about it as a group about where we need to improve. There were chances we missed last week. We were effective when we kept the ball in hand.

Sale fly-half Charlie Hodgson trained with England on Monday after Wilkinson had his muscle problem, but was not selected.

Brive centre Jamie Noon was also left out of the 22 despite his inclusion in the Six Nations squad on Monday following the injury to Leicester's Dan Hipkiss.

Mears is back in an England squad for the first time since last year's Six Nations, having missed the summer tour because of British and Irish Lions duty while injury ruled him out of the autumn internationals.

"Lee is back in good form after his injury and he gives us something a bit different off the bench with his ball-handling and his dynamism," said Johnson.

Northampton's line-breaking full-back Foden is back on the bench having missed out on the trip to Italy as there were five forwards among the replacements.

Move rules out Cipriani - Johnson

Foden, who made his one and only England appearance off the bench against Italy in the 2009 Six Nations, was an unused replacement against Wales earlier this month.

"We made a specific call for last week with three front-rowers," added Johnson.

"That limits your options a bit and I said to Ben after the game it would have been nice to have him come on for the last 10 minutes against Italy.

"It is good to have him back on the bench."

England lost to Ireland by a point last year while they ended a run of four straight defeats by beating the Irish 33-10 at Twickenham in 2008.

Ireland, Grand Slam winners in 2009, come to Twickenham on the back of a heavy 33-10 defeat by France in Paris.

"Ireland are coming off a tough loss in a difficult place to play," said Johnson. "They will want to bounce back and put a good performance in - but so do we.

"We want to improve on last week. We are not replaying that game, this is a new game and we need to approach it that way."

Johnson also commented in public for the first time since Wasps fly-half Danny Cipriani announced last week that he was joining newly-formed Australian side Melbourne Rebels.

Like all the guys who make moves, whether it's abroad or within the country, you wish them well and hope it goes well for them

Johnson on Danny Cipriani

Cipriani, who has been frozen out of the England set-up since 2008, will move in the summer in a switch that effectively rules the mercurial playmaker out of the 2011 World Cup.

Asked if the England management team handled Cipriani in the best way they could, Johnson said: "I think I have spent more time talking to Danny Cipriani than nearly any other player in our squad.

"You can tell as guy and be honest with him and we have done that with Danny, all the way through," added Johnson, who has previously said he would not select Cipriani if he moved to the southern hemisphere.

"He has made his choice of what he wants to do in his career. I spoke to him last week and I said good luck with it.

"Like all the guys who make moves, whether it's abroad or within the country, you wish them well and hope it goes well for them.

"He is a young guy with bags of potential and we have got lots of those players in the group."

England: D Armitage (London Irish); Mark Cueto (Sale), Mathew Tait (Sale), Riki Flutey (Brive), Ugo Monye (Harlequins); Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Danny Care (Harlequins); Tim Payne (Wasps), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Dan Cole (Leicester), Simon Shaw (Wasps), Steve Borthwick (Saracens, captain), James Haskell (Stade Francais), Lewis Moody (Leicester), Nick Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: Lee Mears (Bath), David Wilson (Bath), Louis Deacon (Leicester), Joe Worsley (Wasps), Paul Hodgson (London Irish), Toby Flood (Leicester), Ben Foden (Northampton).

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see also
Jeremy Guscott's tactical view
26 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
Jeremy Guscott Q&A
23 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
Sexton handed Irish fly-half spot
23 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
Murphy drafted into Ireland squad
21 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
Wilkinson critics annoy Johnson
18 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
England not good enough - Bennett
15 Feb 10 |  English
Johnson rues missed opportunities
14 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
Italy 12-17 England
14 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
England 30-17 Wales
06 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
Six Nations table
10 Aug 06 |  Tables

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