Flood to start for England

Toby Flood will start at inside centre alongside fly-half Jonny Wilkinson in England’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France.

Toby Flood will start at inside centre alongside fly-half Jonny Wilkinson in England’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France.

The Leicester playmaker comes into the side for Mike Tindall, who has been recovering from a dead leg, and as one of four changes from England’s 16-12 victory against Scotland last weekend.

Tom Palmer takes over from Courtney Lawes in the second row after making an impressive impact off the bench last week and Nick Easter has been preferred to James Haskell at number eight.

Mark Cueto, who was dropped for the Scotland game after scoring a hat-trick against Romania, returns on the the wing after Delon Armitage was suspended.

Lawes and Haskell feature among five forwards on the bench, with Richard Wigglesworth and Matt Banahan covering the back division.

Wilkinson and Flood have started only one Test together since Martin Johnson took charge – against Wales in the opening game of the 2010 Six Nations, when Shontayne Hape and Riki Flutey withdrew at short notice.

Johnson has also trialled the likes of Olly Barkley and Shane Geraghty in the 12 jersey but had abandoned plans for a second playmaker in favour of a powerful ball-carrier.

The vast majority of Flood’s 45 caps have been won at fly-half but he finished the 2007 World Cup final at inside centre and he played the entire 2008 Six Nations in the position.

Flood will offer England an alternative kicking option against France and improved midfield distribution.

“It’s not a gamble. You always put a lot of thought into your selections, no more so than when you’re in a World Cup quarter-final,” Johnson said.

“It’s one of the options we’ve got. I think Mike and Manu (Tuilagi) have played well together. If we had to play Shontayne; there’s always an argument to play him.

“It does give us some different things that we can do on the field when we play those guys (Flood and Wilkinson).

“Mike took a couple of bangs last week and hasn’t really been available to us this week.

“That was part of the equation – Mike’s injury and Toby playing very well.”

Easter missed England’s victories over Georgia and Romania with a back injury and returned to the squad last week off the bench.

England team to play France in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final at Eden Park, Auckland, on Saturday, October 8 (kick-off 8.30am Irish time):

B Foden (Northampton Saints); C Ashton (Northampton Saints), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), T Flood (Leicester Tigers), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); J Wilkinson (Toulon), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); M Stevens (Saracens), S Thompson (London Wasps), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), L Deacon (Leicester Tigers), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Croft (Leicester Tigers), L Moody (Bath Rugby, capt), N Easter (Harlequins).

Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton Saints), A Corbisiero (London Irish), C Lawes (Northampton Saints), S Shaw (Unattached), J Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), M Banahan (Bath Rugby).

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