Johnson wary of Scottish surprise

ENGLAND captain Martin Johnson has warned his team to expect a major Six Nations Championship challenge from Scotland in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash.

ENGLAND captain Martin Johnson has warned his team to expect a major Six Nations Championship challenge from Scotland in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash.

Johnson missed last season’s shock 19 13 defeat in Edinburgh, when the Scots wrecked English grand slam hopes, through injury.

And although he is now back at the helm of an England side unbeaten for six Tests, Johnson believes Scotland will pose a major threat despite not having won at Twickenham since 1983.

He said: ‘‘I really believe that Scotland are an underestimated team. They work hard, especially their forwards, and they are very dangerous. With players like Scott Murray and Richard Metcalfe, they are very mobile.

‘‘Scotland will not just put on a dogged display with an aim to spoil, they will really test our defence and push us.’’

England are hell bent on avoiding a repeat of 10 months ago, when Scotland coach Ian McGeechan outwitted his England counterpart Clive Woodward and Duncan Hodge scored all 19 points for a famous win in appalling conditions.

‘‘The influence of Ian McGeechan is always a big factor. He knows a lot about England players, having worked with so many of them in the past,’’ said Johnson.

‘‘But at the end of the day it is about 30 guys on the field who can impose themselves on the game the most.

‘‘What we did in Cardiff against Wales wasn’t rocket science, we just executed the game very well, and against Italy we exploited their mistakes.

‘‘Scotland’s win against us last year was not just about their coach. They played well, mastered the conditions and looked like the team to win the game.’’

Unbeaten Six Nations leaders England received a boost yesterday when Johnson’s Leicester team mate Neil Back was passed fit.

Back suffered a knee injury during the 80 23 victory over Italy 11 days ago and did not resume full training until England’s session this morning.

But he will pack down alongside familiar back row partners Richard Hill and Lawrence Dallaglio for his 40th cap.

Martin Corry, who had been on stand by to replace Back, will remain among the substitutes.

France have made six changes to their line up for Saturday’s Six Nations clash against Italy following the 22 15 defeat against Ireland earlier this month.

Coach Bernard Laporte has largely kept faith with his forwards and makes only one change from the scrum which started against Ireland, with veteran Toulouse prop Christian Califano coming in for Sylvain Marconnet.

But Laporte has had a wholesale clear out behind the scrum for this weekend’s game in Rome. Four players have been dropped, while Xavier Garbajosa is out because of a thigh injury.

Scrum half Fabien Galthie returns after suspension in place of Philippe Carbonneau, with centres Richard Dourthe and Franck Comba — who did not even make the squad — replaced by Sebastien Bonetti and Thomas Lombard.

Bonetti, who plays for Biarritz and has benefited from coaching by French full back legend Serge Blanco, will make his international debut against Italy.

Lombard, who has not played since pulling out injured before the second Test against the All Blacks in Marseille last November, wins his 11th cap.

Elsewhere, Stade Francais’ mercurial left winger Christophe Dominici makes a long awaited return after a long absence because of personal problems.

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