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Armitage replaces Cueto for England RWC opener

Armitage replaces Cueto for England RWC opener

Delon Armitage will start on the wing for England for the first time Saturday after he was selected to replace the injured Mark Cueto in his country's Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina.
Cueto trained this week but has failed to recover sufficiently from the back injury that troubled him in the buildup to England's last warmup against Ireland, forcing team manager Martin Johnson to make a second change to the starting lineup that won 20-9 in Dublin.
At least the other change was made by choice, with Nick Easter returning at No. 8 to allow James Haskell to switch back to the blindside flank.
But Armitage's inclusion may yet turn out to be a positive for England.
Although Armitage lacks the experience of the 53-times capped Cueto and the bulk of Matt Banahan, his experience at fullback equips him with the composure under the high ball he is likely to need against an Argentina side well known for its reliance on the tactic.
"The good thing for us is that Delon is playing very well," Johnson said Thursday. "It's quite a simple decision. We know Delon has been around for a few years now and we know when he's in good form and good nick.
"I've no qualms about picking him in any of those back three positions."
Having been ousted from fullback by the emergence of Ben Foden, Armitage will be on the left wing as one of 10 players making their World Cup debut.
Armitage's 16 international starts have been at fullback but he showed his versatility by playing six of his last seven tests as a replacement at center or wing.
Johnson is without specialist wingers to back up Cueto and Chris Ashton, who starts on the right. But the 2003 World Cup-winning captain is confident that Cueto _ who had a try in the 2007 final ruled out in a hairline touch decision _ will be fit to play a part later in the six-week competition.
"There's a gray area between injured and fit, where most players sit all the time," Johnson said.
But even without Cueto, England isn't short on experience.
Mike Tindall again leads the side in the absence of the injured Lewis Moody and will surpass Will Carling as England's most capped center on 73 appearances. He will start inside Samoan-born Manu Tuilagi, who scored tries against Ireland and Wales after being drafted into the squad for the warmups.
Banahan provides cover for both wing and center from the bench.
"We just thought Delon is in very good form and he deserves his shot," Johnson said. "We could go with Matt on the wing and even Manu there."
Armitage's selection completes a change in fortunes for the London Irish fullback, who had been one of the stars of Johnson's spell in charge before a shoulder injury cost him the No. 15 shirt.
He was banned for eight weeks at the start of this year over an altercation with an anti-doping official and missed the end of the season with a three-week ban for striking an opponent.
"I didn't even think I'd be over here so it's a massive turnaround," Armitage said. "If you do the hard work, the right things, sometimes you get your rewards."
Johnson gave him a chance in last month's 23-19 warmup win over Wales and he almost scored one of the great Twickenham tries _ intercepting near halfway while facing his own posts before turning and dancing through the defense to within striking range of the right corner. He was caught but the move laid the platform for a try by Haskell.
"What's happened has happened," Armitage said. "They didn't really need to say anything to me. I just had to train hard."
Jonny Wilkinson keeps the No. 10 jersey to start his fourth World Cup at flyhalf, with the returning Ben Youngs on the bench to leave Richard Wigglesworth at scrumhalf.
"Perhaps we'll push them a little bit more into the corners rather than have Floody chucking it about," Youngs said. "That's the balance they want to play with. Jonno's decided to go with Jonny and as a team we back whoever.
"We're very fortunate to have two great flyhalves."
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England: Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Mike Tindall (captain), Delon Armitage, Jonny Wilkinson, Richard Wigglesworth; Nick Easter, James Haskell, Tom Croft, Courtney Lawes, Louis Deacon, Dan Cole, Steve Thompson, Andrew Sheridan. Replacements: Dylan Hartley, Matt Stevens, Tom Palmer, Tom Wood, Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, Matt Banahan.


Updated : 2021-06-24 10:42 GMT+08:00