BAGSHOT, ENGLAND // Martin Johnson announced the most exciting backline of his tenure as England manager as he looks to start the Six Nations with a bang against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday. Johnson has recalled the mercurial Mathew Tait alongside the fit-again Riki Flutey in a new-look centre partnership with Delon Armitage restored to fullback after he, like Flutey, missed the November internationals.
Danny Care is restored at scrum-half ahead of Paul Hodgson with the No 8 James Haskell and the prop David Wilson recalled. The selection marks something of a change of emphasis for Johnson, who said he and his coaching team had been too prescriptive in previous matches and needed to give his backs more freedom. Tait has 32 caps but only 15 as a starter as successive England coaches have picked and discarded him.
The Sale centre, who made a memorable debut against Wales as a teenager five years ago when he was twice spectacularly dumped on his back by Gavin Henson, has featured at wing and fullback since during an in-and-out career. His eye for a break and silky running was seen at its best in the 2007 World Cup final when he set up Mark Cueto for the try that was ruled out by the video referee. Saturday will represent only his second start since that Springbok defeat in Paris.
Flutey's return should help Tait and fans will hope it also helps Jonny Wilkinson sharpen up his distribution. Armitage, one of England's stand-out performers in the last Six Nations, is another welcome return at fullback, where England struggled in November. Injury ruled out Courtney Lawes and his place on the bench is taken by Louis Deacon, while the uncapped prop Dan Cole is also named among the replacements.
England, seeking to avoid a fourth successive defeat against Wales, face a stiff task in the scrum where their trio of Tim Payne, Dylan Hartley and David Wilson, with just 33 caps between them, will have to be at their best to handle Wales's all-British Lions front row of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones. Wales have delayed the naming of their team until after today's appeal by fullback Lee Byrne against his suspension.