Martin Johnson wields the axe: Ayoola Erinle shock call as under-siege boss gets tough on his flops

Martin Johnson will today reveal a shock change to his England XV, with Ayoola Erinle brought in to partner Dan Hipkiss in midfield and Shane Geraghty demoted to the bench.

The under-pressure England manager has reacted swiftly to the lacklustre display against Argentina by taking an astonishing gamble on his selection at centre.

Johnson’s surprise pick came as Josh Lewsey, the former England utility back and World Cup winner, heavily criticised the manager’s coaching staff, declaring they had
no right to be in the national team’s hierarchy.

Erinle’s elevation is a remarkable development for the former Wasps and Leicester three quarter, who is enjoying a new lease of life at Biarritz.

England's Ayoola Erinle is tackled by Australia's Ryan Cross

The call-up: Erinle will start against the All Blacks

He was called into the elite squad in the build-up to the Australia Test on November 7, following the withdrawal of Mike Tindall.

The 29-year-old came on as a replacement against the Wallabies and was then an unused sub against Argentina on Saturday, so his promotion reflects a desire to counter physically an All Black midfield featuring abrasive Ma’a Nonu.

For Geraghty, it is a frustrating setback after a sensational start to the season with Northampton, where he excelled at fly-half. He has appeared restricted by England’s cautious approach.

Shane Geraghty of England is tackled by Santiago Fernandez

Frustrating stint: Geraghty has appeared shackled in an England shirt

There is another significant change up front, where Joe Worsley, the Wasps flanker, is preferred to fellow Lion Tom Croft.

Worsley will add power to the England defence, but Croft’s demise is a reflection of the fact that he has not been as effective in the Red Rose ranks as he was in South Africa for Ian McGeechan’s tourists. He may be in contention for the World Player of the Year award, but he is out of favour with Johnson.

England's Simon Shaw (top) and France's Thierry Dusautoir

Recalled: Shaw

Lock Simon Shaw returns to the starting team in place of Louis Deacon, while Mathew Tait is added to the bench. Bath prop David Wilson returns to as a replacement, with club colleague Duncan Bell retained at tighthead.

Lewsey, meanwhile, issued a damning verdict on Johnson’s coaching team.

The 2003 World Cup-winner, who retired at the end of last season, worked with John Wells, Mike Ford and Jon Callard during the last tournament two years ago, when Brian Ashton’s side reached the final.

Yet Lewsey has suggested the trio have built their reputations on false pretences, while dismissing the credentials of attack coach Brian Smith.

Lewsey does not regard the men charged with galvanising this faltering England team as fit for purpose.

‘Just look at what London Irish have done since Brian Smith left and he didn’t achieve anything at Test level when he played,’ he said.

‘Mike Ford didn’t win anything, while John Wells never played international rugby. Wells’ achievements as a coach are terrible and what justifies these people keeping their jobs?

‘Yes, Wells and Ford helped England to reach the World Cup Final in 2007, but I’d counter that it didn’t have anything to do with them because the players took charge and decided how we were going to play. England are the best resourced and biggest union in the world yet Wales have greater playing depth and coaches.’

Lewsey’s criticism of the coaches’ input during the 2007 World Cup is revealing. It backs up the belief that player-power saw England through to the final and indicates the contribution of Wells, Ford and Callard was exaggerated by the RFU in their review.

MJosh Lewsey

Tackling the issues: Lewsey's criticisms have been forthright

The pressure on the Johnson regime shows no signs of abating ahead of a daunting clash against New Zealand.

However, Graham Rowntree, who has orchestrated an impressive scrummaging operation despite being limited in players available, spoke up on behalf of Wells, his former Leicester team-mate who is rumoured to have clashed with Smith last week over tactics.

‘Some of the criticism is out of order,’ he said. ‘I am sick of hearing about Wellsy and about this difference of opinion he’s supposed to have on his view of the game.

‘He is one of the best practitioners around in forward play and he wants us to win. He will sit in with whoever is coaching. I’ve seen a lot of coaches and he’s one of the best around.’

England assistant coaches (L-R) Brian Smith, Mike Ford and Graham Rowntree

Hitting back: Rowntree (right) has defended Smith and Ford

Smith, who admitted England’s negative tactics in the win over Argentina were down to him, played down suggestions of a rift.

‘I haven’t had a disagreement in the last week on the training pitch,’ he said. ‘That is a nasty rumour and there’s not an essence of truth about it. We are a united ship.’


M Cueto (Sale); U Monye (Harlequins), A Erinle (Biarritz), D Hipkiss (Leicester), M Banahan (Bath); J Wilkinson (Toulon), P Hodgson (London Irish); T Payne (Wasps), D Hartley (Northampton), D Bell (Bath); S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), S Shaw (Wasps); J Worsley (Wasps), J Haskell (Stade Francais), L Moody (Leicester). Replacements: D Wilson (Bath), S Thompson (Brive), L Deacon (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins), S Geraghty (Northampton), M Tait (Sale).

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