x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Birthday boy Tait to start against Wales

England coach Martin Johnson makes six changes to the side that lost to New Zealand in autumn internationals.

Mathew Tait, centre, will celebrate his 24th birthday on Saturday against Wales.
Mathew Tait, centre, will celebrate his 24th birthday on Saturday against Wales.

Martin Johnson has backed Mathew Tait to live up to his potential in an England shirt after naming him in the starting line-up for Saturday's opening Six Nations match against Wales at Twickenham. Tait, selected at outside centre, was one of six changes, four behind the scrum, made by the England coach as he looks for a winning start to the campaign.

Saturday's match will see Tait, who will be celebrating his 24th birthday, make only his second England start since the 2007 World Cup final defeat by South Africa. Of his 32 caps, only 15 have come as a starter, but Johnson is confident that Tait has what it takes to make an impact. "There's always been a lot of speculation about Matt in my time in charge," he said. "Matt has got a very strong all-round game in attack and with his kicking ability. His defence is underrated. This is a good opportunity for Matt to get in there and play. He's been through a heck of a lot. He's only coming up to 24, he's a bright, mature guy.

"The temptation with young players is they think they have to do something special because it's Test rugby, but he'll play the situation on its merits." Other England changes see Riki Flutey return in midfield after recovering from a shoulder injury, Delon Armitage starts at full-back, Danny Care comes in at scrum-half, with David Wilson coming into the front row and Nick Easter called up at No 8.

Wales will name their side once they know the outcome of full-back Lee Byrne's appeal against a two-week ban for briefly appearing as an illegal 16th man during the Ospreys' Heineken Cup win over Leicester 10 days ago. Meanwhile, Chris Paterson will play his 99th match for Scotland on Sunday after being recalled to the side for their Six Nations opener against France. Glasgow centres Max Evans and Graeme Morrison, Gloucester prop Alasdair Dickinson and Glasgow flankers Kelly Brown and John Barclay are also in Andy Robinson's side. Uncapped Glasgow lock Richie Gray is on the bench.

"There has been improved competition for places since the autumn Tests and selection has been based both on achievements within the autumn matches and on current form," Robinson said. "We are excited about the start of the Championship but we know that we have not won our first game in the competition since 2006, so all our focus is on making a winning start against France on Sunday." * With agencies