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All is forgiven as Hodgson’s called back by Johnson

Sale fly-half Charlie Hodgson has been called into the England squad following concerns over the fitness of Jonny Wilkinson ahead of Saturday's RBS 6 Nations showdown with Ireland.

Wilkinson is suffering from “muscle tightness”, but there was no immediate indication from the England management that he is in danger of missing the game.

Hodgson, who last played for England on the disastrous summer tour to New Zealand in 2008, trained with the squad yesterday after being summoned as precautionary cover for Wilkinson.

Wasps flanker Joe Worsley has returned to Martin Johnson's 32-man squad after recovering from a knee injury, while Brive centre Jamie Noon replaced Dan Hipkiss, who damaged his ankle at the weekend.

Wilkinson's fitness adds an extra twist to the debate over whether he should be retained at fly-half following England's one-dimensional performance in their 17-12 victory over Italy.

Matt Dawson claimed England's lack of attacking ambition in Rome highlighted how Wilkinson “is not comfortable with the responsibility of being the team's playmaker”.

Johnson responded last Wednesday by launching a vigorous defence of Wilkinson's all-round contribution and blasting the criticism as “surprising and disappointing”.

But Johnson was also anxious not to close the door on Wilkinson's understudy Toby Flood, who was frustrated at being the only unused replacement in Rome.

Johnson stated no player in the England set-up is undroppable and he spent Saturday watching Flood play a key role in Leicester's victory over Gloucester, having specifically requested he start at fly-half. Flood was moved to inside centre after 30 minutes following Hipkiss' injury but he kept the pressure on Wilkinson by kicking seven goals from seven and supplying Lote Tuqiri with a scoring pass.

Leicester boss Richard Cockerill said afterwards: “Toby is a quality player and he attacks the line. He is different from other fly-halves that England have got.

“He will kick well and he will run the ball. He is a threat and he played well today.

“If England want to start with him against Ireland, he is more than good enough.”

Flood, considered a stronger runner and distributor, was the starting fly-half last season when England ripped France apart at Twickenham.

But it would be a major call for Johnson to replace Wilkinson on any grounds other than fitness — comfortably the biggest of his 18-month tenure as England manager.

Wilkinson, who has won 75 caps for England, is the leading points scorer in the history of world rugby and his defence is arguably the best of any fly-half ever.

The manner in which Wilkinson struck a right-footed drop-goal to seal England's victory in Rome last weekend will also count for a great deal.

“The game should not have been as close as it was but we found a way to win it,” said Johnson.

Belfast Telegraph

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