Easter to skipper England

Nick Easter will captain England against Ireland in Saturday’s RBS Six Nations Championship clash after Mike Tindall was ruled out with an ankle ligament strain.

Nick Easter will captain England against Ireland in Saturday’s RBS Six Nations Championship clash after Mike Tindall was ruled out with an ankle ligament strain.

Matt Banahan will make his second Test start at outside centre in place of Tindall, who was injured in England’s 22-16 victory over Scotland last weekend.

Saracens wing David Strettle, whose last Test appearance for England came against New Zealand on the 2008 summer tour, will fill the vacant back’s position on the bench.

Johnson has otherwise kept changes to a minimum as England seek a win which would clinch a first Grand Slam since 2003.

With Banahan starting, the England manager will have used only 17 starting players in the championship.

Leicester flanker Tom Croft remains among the replacements, despite marking his comeback from a fractured shoulder with a try-scoring appearance off the bench against Scotland.

Easter, who took over the leadership reigns when Tindall was forced off at half-time against Scotland, first captained England in a Test match in last November’s victory over Samoa.

That was also the game in which Banahan, 24, made his first Test start at outside centre after winning his first five England caps on the wing.

The 6ft 7in Channel islander made a forceful impact when he replaced Tindall in England’s midfield at half-time against Scotland.

There were some fears Banahan could have been cited after a clash with Kelly Brown, which led to the Scotland number eight being stretchered off.

Banahan had always denied leading with the forearm as he ran into Brown’s attempted tackle and the citing officer yesterday concluded there was no case to answer.

England boss Martin Johnson reiterated his praise of the performance against Scotland, and laid out the objectives for this weekend.

“We just need to be really smart with the ball in this game and control it very well, really put pressure on them,” Johnson said.

Johnson has been delighted to see the quality emerge from within his squad, when England’s first-choice players have not been available.

“The depth of the squad has been good,” he said. “Lots of guys have stepped in and done very well.

“Even if you’re not seeing them on the field, they’re getting good involvement with the team in training.

“When they get their opportunities they’ve generally been taking them in the last year or so.

“The players have been great.

“When you’ve got guys like Jonny Wilkinson who’ve done everything, still out there training, trying to improve, that’s the sort of player you want.

“We’ve got that with the young guys too, and they just want to get better.”

Johnson also reflected on the decision to move World Cup matches away from Christchurch, following the earthquake which hit the city on February 22.

Seven matches, including England’s September pool meetings with Argentina and Georgia, will be played elsewhere in New Zealand.

“When it (the earthquake) happened you just thought it was going to be very, very difficult (to stage matches in Christchurch),” Johnson said.

“I’m sure it was a tough decision for everyone but I guess it’s the right decision.”

As for where England’s matches might be moved to, Johnson said: “I’m sure we’ll find out pretty quickly.

“There’s plenty of good facilities there so I’m sure we’ll be somewhere good and play in a good stadium. They’re a rugby-mad country so we’ll get on with it.”

England team to play Ireland in the RBS 6 Nations at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, March 19 (kick-off 5pm):

B Foden (Northampton Saints); C Ashton (Northampton Saints), M Banahan (Bath Rugby), S Hape (Bath Rugby), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); T Flood (Leicester Tigers), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), L Deacon (Leicester Tigers), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Wood (Northampton Saints), J Haskell (Stade Francais), N Easter (Harlequins, capt).

Replacements: S Thompson (Leeds Carnegie), P Doran-Jones (Gloucester), S Shaw (London Wasps), T Croft (Leicester Tigers), D Care (Harlequins), J Wilkinson (Toulon), D Strettle (Saracens).

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