Armitage axed as England ring changes
March 17, 2010
Delon Armitage has been released back to London Irish © Getty Images
Delon Armitage has been dropped for England's Six Nations clash with Grand Slam-chasing France - clearing the way for Ben Foden to make his first Test start at fullback.
England boss Martin Johnson has delayed his official squad announcement until Wednesday lunchtime, but he did release a number of players back to their clubs including Armitage, who has paid the price for a slump in form.
Armitage is not the only casualty to drop out of the 22-man squad after England's 15-15 draw with Scotland last weekend, with Courtney Lawes also released, while there are a range of injury concerns for the under-pressure Johnson to consider.
England's captain Steve Borthwick will be assessed on Wednesday after undergoing treatment for a long-standing wear and tear problem in his knee. However winger Ugo Monye is definitely unavailable after suffering a neck injury at Murrayfield while Jonny Wilkinson's position at fly-half is under threat.
Wilkinson took a couple of heavy blows to the head against Scotland but his form has been questionable all tournament and Toby Flood is pressing hard for the fly-half jersey.
Both Mike Tindall and Chris Ashton are firmly in the equation to be involved from the off at the Stade de France. Tindall's inclusion in England's 22-man squad is little surprise given France today selected the powerful centre Mathieu Bastareaud - but it places Mathew Tait's position in grave doubt.
Tait could switch positions to replace Monye but England see him exclusively as a centre these days, leaving a Test debut for Ashton, the prolific Northampton winger, as the most likely option.
Elsewhere, flanker Lewis Moody is challenging for a recall while Simon Shaw is set for a return to the second row after recovering from a shoulder injury.
"It is not about chopping and changing on a whim because that doesn't do anyone any good," said Johnson. "We have got to pick a team to win every individual game."
England head into Saturday's clash on the back of a dire performance away to Italy, a last-gasp defeat at home to Ireland and a 15-15 draw with winless Scotland. Winger Mark Cueto admitted on Tuesday that England are only playing at 60% of their potential and have let the supporters down. Johnson also understands why the fans are so disillusioned.
England have registered as many tries in this championship - five - as Riki Flutey scored on his own last year, when Johnson's men finished as the leading try-scorers in the Six Nations. England are on course for their lowest number of points scored since the inception of the Six Nations in 2000 and they have been smashed in the key breakdown area, winning just five turnovers in four matches compared to a total of 33 in 2009.
Johnson and captain Steve Borthwick both stressed the "progress" and "improvement" of the team after the Murrayfield draw, an assessment which grated with supporters who are beginning to lose patience. Asked whether he understood the frustrations of the fans, Johnson said: "Of course. We are not saying this is good enough, we are saying we can be better than that.
"Going through these not-so-great experiences is part of everything, part of life and sport and rugby. Going through a draw at Murrayfield which feels like a loss, losing in the last six minutes to Ireland - horrible though it is, is part of the deal.
"Frustration was the buzzword in the squad on Saturday and nothing has changed. The perception that the team is shackled and inhibited is wrong but the mistakes really hurt us. It is not the ambition as much as the execution that is hurting us. There are not a huge amount of secrets out there and at this moment France are doing better than anyone."
France will be in the hunt for glory on Saturday night but England have beaten Les Bleus on their last two visits to Paris - in the 2008 Six Nations and in the 2007 World Cup semi-final.
"There is pressure on them. They have been the form team of the tournament but we are an international team, we are playing for England and we want to perform," said Johnson. "They have a lot to lose in terms of not winning a Grand Slam. We have a lot to lose every time we play for England."