England coach Martin Johnson has picked fly-half Toby Flood ahead of Jonny Wilkinson for the final game of the Six Nations at the Stade de France, where the Red Rose will hope to spoil France's grand slam party.
REUTERS - Jonny Wilkinson has been dropped for England's final Six Nations game against France on Saturday as manager Martin Johnson made six changes from the side that laboured to a 15-15 draw with Scotland last weekend.
Wilkinson, who went off after 44 minutes at Murrayfield following a blow to the head, is replaced at flyhalf by Toby Flood but remains in the squad named on Wednesday among the replacements.
It is only the third time in his England career that Wilkinson has been dropped because of form rather than injury.
"You need a strong squad. Going forward the next 18 months towards a World Cup, we are going to need at least two of everything," said Johnson.
"It's great that we've got Toby there and Jonny fighting it out and obviously the younger guys beneath them as well all pushing to get up."
Winger Ugo Monye, another to receive a head injury against the Scots, is replaced by Northampton's uncapped Chris Ashton, the Premiership's leading try-scorer, while fullback Delon Armitage, who has struggled for form throughout the tournament, gives way for Ben Foden to make his first start following some lively contributions from the bench.
Outside centre Mathew Tait, hailed as England's great creative hope when recalled by Johnson at the start of the tournament, is dropped again as 31-year-old World Cup-winner Mike Tindall makes his first appearance for a year.
In the pack, Simon Shaw has recovered from a shoulder injury and comes back in place of Louis Deacon while Lewis Moody, dropped against Scotland, returns at openside flanker.
Joe Worsley switches to blindside with James Haskell dropping to the bench. Lock Steve Borthwick will again lead the team having overcome a knee injury.
The backline changes appear to be a belated recognition by Johnson of his team's dire lack of attacking intent.
In 1999 Clive Woodward opted for Paul Grayson over Wilkinson in the World Cup quarter-final defeat by South Africa in Paris while in 2008 he made way for Danny Cipriani in a Six Nations win over Ireland.
Wilkinson has struggled to take control of games in the current Six Nations and has also been uncharacteristically wayward with his goalkicking.
Flood, who replaced him in the second half at Murrayfield, has looked marginally more inventive but he too has struggled with his kicking and missed a late penalty on Saturday that would have won the game.
Northampton's Foden has looked England's most exciting player in his off-the-bench cameos and deserves his start ahead of Armitage. Likewise Ashton, who was brought into the training squad at the start of the tournament but has yet to feature.
Tindall's recall for his 61st cap following yet another long injury layoff has much to do with countering the threat of mighty French centre Mathieu Bastareaud.
England are likely to finish third in the standings whatever the result in Paris while France should win their first title since 2007 even if they were to suffer a surprise defeat.
They have eight points to the six of Ireland and though the Irish will expect to beat Scotland in Dublin earlier on Saturday they have a points difference deficit of 50 to make up.
Date created : 2010-03-18