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Johnson defends Hape

Martin Johnson launched a staunch defence of Shontayne Hape after restoring him to England's midfield for the Rugby World Cup warm-up international against Wales.

Hape had been a permanent fixture in the England team following his debut in Australia last summer until he sat out last week's 23-19 home win against Wales as part of a planned rotation policy. Johnson has made 13 changes for the return match against Wales and Hape will start alongside captain Mike Tindall in what was England's first-choice centre partnership in the Six Nations.

The Tindall-Hape axis has been criticised for lacking the pace and invention required to make a mark at the World Cup - but Johnson disagrees and said: "I think Shontayne brings a heck of a lot but a lot of people don't understand it. For a lot of last season he was probably our best defender."

He added: "He gets you over the gainline and he's a very smart player.

"He doesn't do the one or two eye-catching things that people remember, he does 80 minutes of good solid work.

"He's very strong in that contact area, he wins collisions and we can play off that. Last week when we ran hard and won the contact area we looked dangerous.

"Shontayne can give us that - he's a very smart footballer with the ball in his hand.

"When you speak to opposition coaches, a lot of them rate him very, very highly so I will sit here and defend him all day."

With the exception of scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and flanker Hendre Fourie, Johnson will field the side that secured England their first Six Nations title since 2003.

Chris Ashton rolled his ankle before training on Thursday but expects to be fit to link up in the back three with Ben Foden and Mark Cueto.


From Belfast Telegraph