Tindall furor overshadows England RWC team changes
Updated: September 16, 2011, 00:45
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DUNEDIN, New Zealand(AP) England reintroduced its Six Nations-winning halfback pairing, recalled its fit-again captain and picked a stand-in for its injured star prop for Sunday's Rugby World Cup match against Georgia.
Yet all anyone wanted to ask about was what a player who didn't even make the reserves bench has been up to off the field.
Mike Tindall was replaced at inside center by Shontayne Hape and as captain by the returning Lewis Moody, but the first 15 of the 20 questions from international media at Friday's team announcement were about the rugby center who recently married into the royal family.
A British newspaper has reported that Tindall misbehaved on a night out with teammates this week in the alpine resort of Queenstown, but team manager Martin Johnson defended his players' conduct and said he had always planned to make several changes after last weekend's 13-9 opening win over Argentina.
"If there's a complaint and someone says 'one of your players acted inappropriately,' we would act upon it,'' Johnson said. "The manager of the bar has said the England players' behavior was perfectly acceptable all evening. It's just the way it's been reported.
"'Rugby player drinks beer.' Shocker!''
Tindall attracts extra attention since marrying Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth II's granddaughter, last month. He hasn't spoken publicly about the media reports of his night out with teammates.
His replacement by Hape is one of three switches in the backs in a lineup showing a total nine changes to the side which overcame the Pumas at Dunedin's Otago Stadium.
Toby Flood and Ben Youngs will resume their Six Nations-winning halfback partnership, with Jonny Wilkinson dropping to the bench and scrumhalf Richard Wigglesworth not even among the reserves.
Wilkinson endured a miserable kicking performance under the clear roof in Dunedin but Johnson was always likely to try out both flyhalves during England's first three Pool B matches, all of which are held at the stadium.
Youngs injected some pace and unpredictability into the opener when he entered as a replacement midway through the second half, scoring the decisive try against the tiring Argentines as England rallied from 9-3 down.
Delon Armitage retains his place on the wing with back-injury victim Mark Cueto again omitted from the match-day squad, while Moody returns at openside for the first time since injuring his knee against Wales on Aug. 6.
"Mark's probably in the position that Lewis was in last week,'' Johnson said. "So he's frustrated that he's not got a shot.''
Matt Stevens has been selected at loosehead to replace the injured Andrew Sheridan, who is out of the tournament after damaging his left shoulder against Argentina, while No. 8 Nick Easter and tighthead Dan Cole are the only forwards to retain their places.
With Courtney Lawes suspended for two weeks for using his knee on Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma, Tom Palmer and Simon Shaw pair up in the second row, Tom Wood comes in on the blindside for Tom Croft, and Dylan Hartley replaces Steve Thompson at hooker.
England: Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Shontayne Hape, Delon Armitage, Toby Flood, Ben Youngs; Nick Easter, Lewis Moody (captain), Tom Wood, Tom Palmer, Simon Shaw, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Matt Stevens. Reserves: Steve Thompson, Alex Corbisiero, Tom Croft, James Haskell, Joe Simpson, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Banahan.