Johnno ponders new approach
England boss poised to unveil squads for RBS Six Nations
Last Updated: 13/01/10 5:14pm
Johnson: Plenty to ponder
England manager Martin Johnson could be set to throw caution to the wind ahead of the RBS Six Nations.
Johnson and his side came in for heavy criticism during the autumn internationals after a series of turgid and disappointing displays.
A scrappy win over Argentina was sandwiched in between defeats to Australia and New Zealand.
But more frustrating than the results themselves was the fact England lacked any direction or creativity in the defeats, managing just one try and 31 points.
However there have been rumblings from Twickenham that Johnson is now ready to throw off the shackles and give his players more attacking freedom.
With the highly-rated Brian Smith as his attack coach, Johnson has one of the best men in the business to implement a new creative approach - and it looks likely Wednesday's EPS and Saxons squad announcements will see the players named to breathe life into England's game.
Johnson is almost certain to recall Delon Armitage, Riki Flutey, Nick Easter and Toby Flood to his 32-man elite squad for the championship - but there could also be one or two surprises.
Northampton trio Chris Ashton, Ben Foden and Courtney Lawes, Leicester's Dan Cole and Ben Youngs, centres Shontayne Hape and Dominic Waldouck, Worcester prop Matt Mullan and Saracens' Andy Saull are among those pushing for key roles.
The return of Flutey, who impressed on his comeback for Brive against Perpignan, will certainly solve the problem over who to play at inside centre.
The Lions star looked to have finally have found his feet on the international stage in the role before injury ruled him out.
Shane Geraghty was tried in the role alongside Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half during the autumn - but the gamble on having two playmakers failed to pay off.
Wilkinson will almost certainly get the nod ahead of Flood at No.10 for the start of the Six Nations, meaning the inclusion of Flutey would give England more control and open the door for a flair player to don the 13 jersey - with Hape, Waldouck and Mathew Tait all possibilities.
Former Wigan rugby league star Ashton has been in superb form for Saints this season, running in nine tries already to top the scoring lists in the Premiership. Alongside team-mate Foden, he could add a new dimension to the back three.
Fellow Northampton ace Lawes has maintained his fine form despite being largely overlooked for the autumn Tests - a 12-minute cameo against Australia aside - and would add much-needed dynamism to the pack.
However that provides Johnson with the biggest conundrum of his management: does his continue with captain Steve Borthwick in the second row, or does he go for a new look.
The option of putting young dynamo Lawes alongside the battle-hardened Simon Shaw - who is still one of the top Premiership performers - has a clear appeal.
Injuries up front to Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery mean Johnson has options to consider, although Leicester's Dan Cole has emerged as a serious contender after a run of quality displays, with the 22-year-old clearly outperforming England rival Tim Payne at the weekend.
Worcester's Mullan has also forced his way into contention having returned to fitness, with Warriors boss Mike Ruddock expecting big things from the 22-year-old.
In the back row, Saull could provide Johnson with the man to do the dirty work on the deck to tidy up the breakdown. Schooled by the legendary Richard Hill - an expert in putting his body on the line in rucks and mauls - the 21-year-old has caught the eye this season with his work-rate.
At scrum-half, Danny Care and Paul Hodgson look to be in a straight scrap to start - with Harry Ellis dogged by injuries since returning from the tour to South Africa with the Lions. However, in the absence of Ellis, Youngs has risen to the challenge and has played a key role in seeing Leicester top the table.