England call for Hodgson

Sale fly-half called up as a precaution after Wilkinson suffers "muscle tightness"

Last Updated: 22/02/10 7:11pm

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Hodgson: Precautionary cover

Hodgson: Precautionary cover

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Charlie Hodgson has been called into the England squad ahead of this weekend's RBS Six Nations match against Ireland following concerns over the fitness of Jonny Wilkinson.

The Sale fly-half, who last played for England on their tour of New Zealand two summers ago, trained with the squad on Monday as cover for Wilkinson, who is suffering from "muscle tightness".

However, there was no immediate indication from the England management that Wilkinson might miss Saturday's game at Twickenham.

The question of Wilkinson's fitness comes in the wake of the criticism he received following England's 17-12 victory over Italy the weekend before last - his and the team's performances widely viewed as one-dimensional.

England manager Martin Johnson responded by launching a vigorous defence of Wilkinson's all-round contribution and saying the criticism was "surprising and disappointing".

However, Johnson also stated no player in the England set-up is undroppable and is anxious not to close the door on Wilkinson's understudy Toby Flood.

Flood, who was frustrated at being the only unused replacement in Rome, played a key role in Leicester's victory over Gloucester at the weekend - the watching Johnson having specifically requested he start the match at fly-half.

He kept the pressure on Wilkinson by kicking seven goals from seven and supplying Lote Tuqiri with a scoring pass.

Leicester boss Richard Cockerill said afterwards: "Toby is a quality player and he attacks the line. He is different from other fly-halves that England have got.

"He will kick well and he will run the ball. He is a threat and he played well today. If England want to start with him against Ireland, he is more than good enough."

Big call

Flood, considered a stronger runner and distributor, was the starting fly-half last season when England ripped France apart at Twickenham.

However, any decision to replace Wilkinson with Flood for any reason other than fitness would be the biggest call of Johnson's 18-month spell as England boss.

Although there was criticism of his performance at the Stadio Flaminio - Wilkinson's World Cup-winning half-back partner Matt Dawson claiming he "is not comfortable with the responsibility of being the team's playmaker" - the drop goal he kicked to seal victory would have counted for a good deal.

Then there is the 30-year-old's talismanic presence in the side: Wilkinson's 75 caps for England, the fact he is the leading points scorer in the history of world rugby and that his defence is arguably the best of any fly-half ever.

"The game should not have been as close as it was but we found a way to win it," Johnson said at the time.

"You have players who are not in the team who are potentially better at some areas of the game than guys that are in the team.

"You have to weigh up that overall impact.

"I think Toby has been playing well. We have good depth in that position. We are lucky to have two world class players at 10."

Flood switched to inside centre at the weekend after fellow Tiger Dan Hipkiss suffered an ankle injury, with Brive centre Jamie Noon replacing the latter in England's 32-man squad as a result.

Wasps flanker Joe Worsley has also returned after recovering from a knee injury.

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