England poised to attack
Mathew Tait has been included in an attacking side ahead of England's Six Nations opener against Wales on Saturday.
Last Updated: 02/02/10 5:32pm
England manager Martin Johnson has named arguably his boldest attacking team yet ahead of Saturday's RBS Six Nations opener against Wales at Twickenham.
Mathew Tait makes his first international start at outside centre since the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, while Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care reclaims the number nine jersey.
Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey return to the team at full-back and inside centre respectively after England missed their presence during a miserable autumn internationals campaign.
Nick Easter also returns at number eight as one of six changes to the team beaten by New Zealand in November.
Faced with an unprecedented injury list for November's matches against Australia, Argentina and the All Blacks, England's management team effectively went into damage limitation mode.
As a result, England scored just one try in three Tests and all three opponents left Twickenham claiming not to have been stretched.
Johnson acknowledged that mistakes were made and has clearly shifted the emphasis for the Six Nations. The inclusion of Armitage, Tait and Care suggests England will attack Wales with pace.
Tait's recall means his career has come full circle since his international debut as a teenage centre against Wales' Grand Slam side of 2005.
Since then he has been moved around the back line, playing on the wing and at full-back but never really given a run in his preferred 13 jersey - except at the 2007 World Cup.
Indeed, he has made just one England start since they lost to South Africa in Paris, at full-back against New Zealand on the 2008 summer tour. His last eight caps have all been as a replacement.
Johnson has admitted that Tait had been mis-used for too long and said that the 23-year-old now has the chance to cement his place in the England midfield.
"I have felt a bit for Tait. It can be a little convenient sometimes to stick him on the bench because he is utility. It is probably a time for him to challenge for that 13 spot," Johnson said last month.
Speaking on Tuesday, Johnson said he was happy to welcome Flutey, Armitage and Easter back into the side - all three having missed the autumn internationals because of injury.
"It is good to get them back," said Johnson.
"With Riki and Delon, we picked them all through last year and they took their chance.
"It was a blow to lose Riki in the autumn. He has trained really well over the last 10 days and fitted right back in.
"Nick's leadership has been vital for us. He is a strength in that area and it is nice to get him back into the group because he is playing well for Harlequins."
Tait replaces Dan Hipkiss and Johnson believes his obvious attacking skills are complemented by a defence solid enough to deal with a Welsh midfield set to include Jamie Roberts.
"There has always been a lot of speculation with Mat. Last season he had his injury issues and he then fitted on to the bench in the Six Nations," said Johnson.
"It is a close call. He is a different player to Dan Hipkiss but he has a good all round game. His defence is under-rated."
Johnson also said that up-and-coming Northampton lock Courtney Lawes was ruled out because of a slight groin injury.
The only position where England are without their first-choice players is at prop, with Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery both sidelined for the tournament.
Tim Payne continues at loose-head despite his recent struggles for Wasps while David Wilson packs down at tight-head with Dylan Hartley at hooker.
The England front row boasts a combined total of 33 caps - compared to 162 from Wales' all-Lions Test unit in Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones.
"We have got our hands full there because I rate them a lot," said England scrum coach Graham Rowntree, who worked with the Welsh trio on the Lions tour.
"We can't be overawed by it. They may be a Lions front row but they are a front row coming to Twickenham and that is our house."
The uncapped Leicester prop Dan Cole is on the bench.
England: 15 D Armitage (London Irish); 14 M Cueto (Sale Sharks), 13 M Tait (Sale Sharks), 12 R Flutey (Brive), 11 U Monye (Harlequins); 10 J Wilkinson (Toulon), 9 D Care (Harlequins); 1 T Payne (Wasps), 2 D Hartley (Northampton), 3 D Wilson (Bath), 4 S Shaw (Wasps), 5 S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), 6 J Haskell (Stade Francais), 7 L Moody (Leicester), 8 N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: 16 S Thompson (Brive), 17 D Cole (Leicester), 18 L Deacon (Leicester), 19 S Armitage (London Irish), 20 P Hodgson (London Irish), 21 T Flood (Leicester), 22 B Foden (Northampton).