Bullish Johnson plays up squad depth
May 11, 2010
England manager Martin Johnson is in bullish mood prior to his side's summer tour © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson has played up the strength of his touring squad prior to their Test series with Australia in June.
Johnson's 44-man panel will travel to face the Wallabies in two Tests as well as facing the Australian Barbarians and New Zealand Maori in midweek games as they begin preparations for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Skipper Steve Borthwick, lock Louis Deacon, prop Phil Vickery and centre Riki Flutey will not tour due to injury and rehabilitation periods, but Johnson maintains that this is the strongest England squad to tour Australia since 2004. Bath centre Olly Barkley and Sale fly-half Charlie Hodgson headline the recalls, while flanker Lewis Moody looks set to lead the squad in Borthwick's absence, injury permitting.
"It's probably the strongest squad we have taken down there since 2003-04 in terms of depth," he said. "We want to give guys a chance to play in a tough environment. It will be tough on and off the field in many regards. England v Australia at any sport has always got an edge for us.
"The guys are looking forward to the tour more than any I can remember. The tour is the start of the build-up to 2011 in terms of selection. We don't tour again before the next World Cup and the big picture of 2011 is always in our minds. This is an opportunity for players to work with senior coaches and be in the group. There will be midweek games, guys will have to muck in, help them out in Test-team training in midweek and vice versa. Good things that build teams."
Johnson believes that the mix of youth and keen old heads will stand England in good stead against a Wallabies outfit that struggled at times last season before cutting loose and routing Wales in their final Test of 2009.
"We've got 20 guys who are 25 or under and a few uncapped players who are a little bit older, like Hendre Fourie, who's in because of his performances in the Premiership this year at Leeds," said Johnson. "We wanted to take some of the younger players like Joe Simpson, for whom it's a good opportunity to come and get involved in the squad.
"Shontayne Hape was in the 32 in the Six Nations but did not get an opportunity to play. David Strettle has come back into the group and so has Olly Barkley. He, like all the guys, has put himself in contention for the Test team. The guys who are getting the chance to come in again are gagging to get back into the squad."