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Strettle eyes Baptism of Fire

By Ben Blackmore.   Last Updated: 23/02/07 1:10pm

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RBS Six Nations, Ireland v England, Croke Park, Saturday February 24, KO 5.30pm

England rookie David Strettle admits he cannot wait to enter the 'baptism of fire' that will greet him at Croke Park on Saturday.

The 23-year-old Harlequins winger, who is yet to play one minute of international rugby, has been thrown in at the deep end by Brian Ashton after injury sidelined Jason Robinson.

A capacity 83,000 crowd awaits Strettle in arguably England's biggest Six Nations contest against Ireland, but he is buzzing with anticipation.

"It will be a baptism of fire, but it is going to be superb," he beamed.

"Obviously, I will be nervous - I don't know many players who don't get nervous before games - but it is a case of trying to keep those nerves under control.

"It is fantastic to get your first cap, and the fact it will be at Croke Park makes it a bit special.

"Playing for my club, the England sevens team and the Saxons has played a big part in me getting into the England squad and now making my debut.

"I see all of those experiences as part of the build-up to the really big days, and Saturday is definitely one of those."

Strettle may have little experience around him in Dublin, as England face the prospect of fielding a backline that includes 21-year-old Toby Flood, two-cap Olly Morgan and union rookie Andy Farrell.

Head coach Brian Ashton is confident the Quins man will cope though: "David Strettle is a lad on form, who is scoring tries. He has got pace, good feet and is a tremendous finisher.

"Speaking to people like Jim Mallinder (England Saxons coach), he says David is someone who remains unflustered on big occasions, and that will certainly help him here tomorrow.

"I have no qualms about picking young players and new players, as I've shown recently with Olly Morgan and Nick Easter."

Ashton has meanwhile confirmed that Toby Flood will start ahead of Mike Catt should Jonny Wilkinson fail to make the Croke Park encounter due to a tight hamstring.

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