Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Johnson goes for the spine

Three changes to the spine of the team — at scrum-half, hooker and No 8 — plus an enforced switch in the crucial position of tight-head prop?

Martin Johnson would hardly claim this to be ideal preparation for a Test match against a team as dangerous as Argentina, who pitch up at Twickenham this weekend.

As expected, the Paris-based James Haskell will fill the back-row hole created by the abrupt demotion of Jordan Crane and Duncan Bell replaces his injured Bath clubmate, David Wilson at prop. However, there were never any guarantees that Dylan Hartley and Paul Hodgson would get the nod ahead of Steve Thompson and Danny Care at Nos 2 and 9 respectively.

These are choices driven by the events of last weekend, when England slipped off acceptable standards against Australia.

“We want Paul to bring his maturity and leadership to the mix,” Johnson said. “As for Dylan, he missed a lot of the training in the run-up to the Australia match and while he was fit to start on the day, we felt it sensible to play the guy who'd done all the preparation. This time, Dylan has been fully involved right the way through.”

For the 35-year-old Bell, this opportunity is heaven-sent.

“I spent 18 months out of the game after my one and only previous start for England in 2005, struggling with a career-threatening knee injury,” he said. “Without wishing to sound melodramatic, I've treasured every game for Bath since.

At the other end of the experience spectrum stands Paul Doran-Jones, summoned out of the blue last weekend as propping cover against a side equipped with the most fearsome scrummage in the world game.

An old schoolmate and close friend of Haskell — the two were implicated in the production of an extremely dodgy video while studying at Wellington College -- the 24-year-old Gloucester forward was admirably relaxed as he fielded the inevitable questions on the subject yesterday. “It was a mistake, made a long time ago,” he said. “I hope my rugby will be the focus now.”

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