England v Italy, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 12
Johnson keeps faith in winning side
ESPNscrum Staff
February 10, 2011
England winger Chris Ashton in relaxed mood, ngland training session, Pennyhill Park Hotel, Bagshot, England, February 8, 2011
Chris Ashton has retained his place in the England starting XV © Getty Images

England manager Martin Johnson has kept faith with the side that saw off Wales last Friday for this weekend's Six Nations clash against Italy at Twickenham.

Johnson's men got their campaign underway with a 26-19 victory at the Millennium Stadium in round one, with winger Chris Ashton bagging a brace and fly-half Toby Flood turning in an immaculate all-round performance.

Northampton flanker Tom Wood continues at blindside after winning his first cap in round one, while Stade Francais' James Haskell is retained in the No.7 jersey despite the return to action of Leeds openside Hendre Fourie.

The South African-born breakaway proved his fitness following a calf problem with a try-scoring run-out for his club in an Anglo-Welsh Cup tie against Northampton last weekend and is recalled among the replacements, with Wasps' Joe Worsley having been released for domestic action this weekend.

"The lad did okay on Friday," Johnson said of Wood. "There are lots of bits we need to get better at, things that we talked about after the game and with the guys on Monday.

"There was a big build-up to that game last week, and this is not seen as the biggest game of the week, but they are the only team that can beat us this week. Right from the first meeting we had on Monday have spoken about things we did well and things we can improve on.

"We had plenty of chances to score tries and finish the game off last week. We had one near the end that would have killed the game off and we didn't get in, so we spoke a bit about that."

Johnson admitted it had been a tough decision to drop Worsley from his 22, but believes Fourie can have a big impact off the bench. "He is a good option, a genuine seven," said Johnson of the Leeds man. "But we are happy with the guys there, and having him there to make an impact off the bench. It is tough on Joe as the guys who came off the bench on Friday had lots of experience and helped close the game out."

Italy opened their Six Nations campaign with a narrow 13-11 defeat to Ireland in Rome, and Johnson expects them to provide a tough test for his side. "You have the same conversation when you play Italy, even going back to when we played them in the 1995 World Cup and the World Cup qualifier in 1998 - they are tough games," he said.

"They should have won last week. They can play. They keep hold of the ball and put you under pressure and that's the game. They do that well and we are under no illusions that this is the toughest test we can play this week. People say we didn't play well against them last year but they are a good side and they are a different challenge."

Mike Tindall continues as captain in the injury-enforced absence of Lewis Moody, who is targeting a return to action for the France game on February 26.

England: B Foden (Northampton Saints); C Ashton (Northampton Saints), M Tindall (Gloucester, capt), S Hape (Bath), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); T Flood (Leicester Tigers), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), L Deacon (Leicester Tigers), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Wood (Northampton Saints), J Haskell (Stade Francais), N Easter (Harlequins).

Replacements: S Thompson (Leeds Carnegie), D Wilson (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), H Fourie (Leeds), D Care (Harlequins), J Wilkinson (Toulon), M Banahan (Bath)

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