England pairs Wilkinson, Flood as combo for France
Updated: October 05, 2011, 22:42
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Jonny Wilkinson has overcome an arm injury to remain at flyhalf in a new backline combination with Toby Flood for England's Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against France on Saturday.
England manager Martin Johnson made four changes Thursday from the team that beat Scotland 16-12 last weekend. He brought in Flood at inside center for Mike Tindall, selected Mark Cueto for the suspended Delon Armitage, picked No. 8 Nick Easter over James Haskell and opted for lock Tom Palmer over Courtney Lawes.
Tindall has been struggling with a leg injury and hadn't been able to train with the team all week, Johnson said, ruling England's vice captain out of the match at Eden Park.
"He hasn't really been available to us this week. By the Saturday, he'd probably be touch and go. That was part of the equation, with Mike's injury and Toby playing very well,'' Johnson said.
"The same with a couple of the other selections, we've just got options there in terms of what we want from a player. Say in picking Tom ahead of Courtney, picking Nick ahead of James - who's particularly unlucky not to start - but I think this is far more a 22-man effort on the day than it ever has been. We've got a strong bench and we're going to need them.''
Wilkinson has been out of form throughout the pool stages, kicking only nine from 20 attempts at goal, and has generally failed to ignite a backline containing the tournament's leading try-scorer in Chris Ashton, dynamic fullback Ben Foden and bullocking center Manu Tuilagi.
"It's not a gamble,'' Johnson said of selecting Leicester teammates Flood and Tuilagi in the centers. "You always put a lot of thought into your selections and none more so than when you're in a World Cup quarterfinal. It's one of the options we've got.''
The combination of Wilkinson and Flood offers not only two playmakers but also left- and right-footed tactical and place kickers.
Flood is goal kicking at a 77 percent success rate at the tournament, well above Wilkinson's 45 percent - the third lowest of all the leading place kickers for each of the 20 nations.
Flood, who held the flyhalf spot as England won the Six Nations earlier this year but has essentially been a backup No. 10 to Wilkinson at the World Cup, impressed after coming on as a substitute in the comeback win over Scotland in the defining Pool B match. It was his cutout pass that set up Ashton for the late try that clinched qualification and he also landed the conversion from the sideline.
Palmer's selection strengthens the lineout at the expense of Lawes' ball-carrying abilities, while Haskell's demotion gives England a greater impact from the bench.
"I said in front of the team, 'This is a particularly hard call on James' and he didn't deserve it in terms of how he's played,'' Johnson said. "But they will have a massive influence on the game. I've said this before, the guys on the bench are normally on the field at the end.''
Armitage was banned for one match for a dangerous tackle on Scotland fullback Chris Paterson, giving Cueto his second match at the tournament after scoring a hat-trick of tries in the 67-3 win over Romania.
Cueto's inclusion also allows England to play a 5-2 split of forwards to backs on the reserves bench as he can cover fullback, while replacement Matt Banahan can play on the wing and at center.
England: Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Toby Flood, Mark Cueto, Jonny Wilkinson, Ben Youngs; Nick Easter, Lewis Moody (captain), Tom Croft, Tom Palmer, Louis Deacon, Dan Cole, Steve Thompson, Matt Stevens. Reserves: Dylan Hartley, Alex Corbisiero, Courtney Lawes, Simon Shaw, James Haskell, Richard Wigglesworth, Matt Banahan.