x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Out-of-touch Wilkinson is dropped by England

Six changes in the side to play France but the fly-half is the highest-profile casualty as Johnson looks to get more from his backline.

Jonny Wilkinson has been relegated to the bench.
Jonny Wilkinson has been relegated to the bench.

Jonny Wilkinson has been dropped for England's final Six Nations game against France on Saturday as manager Martin Johnson made six changes from the side that laboured to a 15-15 draw with Scotland last weekend. Wilkinson, who went off after 44 minutes at Murrayfield after taking a blow to the head, is replaced at fly-half by Toby Flood but remains, among the replacements, in the squad named yesterday.

Ugo Monye, the winger who also received a head injury on Saturday, is replaced by Northampton's uncapped Chris Ashton, the Premiership's leading try-scorer, while Delon Armitage, the full-back who has struggled for form throughout the tournament, gives way for Ben Foden to make his first start following some lively contributions from the bench. Mathew Tait, the outside centre who was hailed as England's great creative hope when recalled by Johnson at the start of the tournament, is dropped again as Mike Tindall, the 31-year-old World Cup-winner, makes his first appearance for a year.

In the forwards, Simon Shaw has recovered from a shoulder injury and comes back in place of Louis Deacon, while Lewis Moody, dropped against Scotland, returns at openside flanker. Joe Worsley switches to blindside with James Haskell dropping to the bench. Steve Borthwick will again lead the team from lock, having overcome a knee injury. The backline changes appear to be a belated recognition by Johnson of his team's dire lack of attacking intent and Wilkinson is the highest-profile casualty.

It is only the third time in his England career he has been dropped because of form rather than injury. In 1999 Clive Woodward opted for Paul Grayson in the World Cup quarter-final loss to South Africa in Paris while in 2008 Wilkinson made way for Danny Cipriani in a Six Nations win over Ireland. Wilkinson has struggled to take control of games in the Six Nations this season and has also been uncharacteristically wayward with his goalkicking.

Flood, who replaced him in the second half at Murrayfield, has looked marginally more inventive but he too has struggled with his kicking and missed a late penalty on Saturday that would have won the game. England are likely to finish third in the standings whatever the result in Paris while France should win their first title since 2007 even if they were to suffer a surprise defeat. They have eight points to the six of Ireland and though the Irish will expect to beat Scotland in Dublin earlier on Saturday they have a points deficit of 50 to make up.

France, though, will want to take the title in style, having lost their last three against England, including twice in Paris. Meanwhile, Scotland have named an unchanged team for Saturday's match with Ireland. Kelly Brown, the flanker, had been an injury doubt after suffering in a sickening clash of heads with Monye in last weekend's Calcutta Cup draw at Murrayfield. There are changes on the bench, however, with the lock Nathan Hines ruled out because of a knee injury.

* With agencies