World Cup - Tuilagi to make England debut

Thu, 04 Aug 12:25:00 2011

Samoa-born centre Manu Tuilagi will make his first appearance for England after Martin Johnson included him in the starting team to face Wales at Twickenham on Saturday.

World Cup - Tuilagi to make debut

Prop Matt Stevens also starts as he wins his first cap since 2008 following his return from a two-year doping ban.

There were two uncapped players among the replacements, 21-year-old Gloucester winger Charlie Sharples and Saracens lock Mouritz Botha.

Full-back Delon Armitage, suspended for eight weeks in January for abusing a doping official and banned again for three weeks for punching, was also given a chance to redeem himself with a start at full-back.

Flanker Lewis Moody, who missed England's Six Nations campaign with a knee injury, returns to captain the side. Stand-in skipper Mike Tindall, who got married last weekend to Zara Phillips, was left out.

With Ben Youngs injured, Danny Care starts at scrum-half alongside Jonny Wilkinson.

Mark Cueto and Matt Banahan, who Johnson likes for his flexibility having used him at centre, fill the wing berths.

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It is Tuilagi, however, who will be the main talking point among the sell-out 82,000 crowd on Saturday.

He made a huge impact in every sense in his first season at Leicester, where his pace, power and determination blasted through some of the best defences in the land.

However, he missed the last five weeks of the season having been suspended for assaulting England team-mate Chris Ashton with a flurry of punches during his team's Premiership semi-final win over Northampton.

That ban ruled him out of a planned run with the second-string Saxons team but Tuilagi has impressed Johnson during the team's training camp.

Tindall and Shontayne Hape, another New Zealander, were Johnson's preferred centre partnership last season but the duo, though hugely dependable in the tackle, lack a little creatively.

A good showing on Saturday would give Tuilagi a great chance to make the final World Cup squad where he could deliver the X-factor ingredient that England could well need to keep their opponents guessing.

"I'm really proud to be winning my first cap," said Tuilagi, who was named Premiership Young Player of the Year. "There is a lot of competition for places and I just want to take this chance and do the best I can for the team. The boys have worked hard during the camp but now we have to perform against Wales."

England face Wales again in Cardiff on August 13 before completing their preparations against Ireland in Dublin on August 27.

Johnson will name his final 30-man squad on August 22 and his first World Cup game will be against Argentina in Dunedin on September 10.

Team: 15-Delon Armitage, 14-Matt Banahan, 13-Manu Tuilagi, 12-Riki Flutey, 11-Mark Cueto, 10-Jonny Wilkinson, 9-Danny Care, 8-James Haskell, 7-Lewis Moody (captain), 6-Tom Croft, 5-Tom Palmer, 4-Simon Shaw, 3-Matt Stevens, 2-Dylan Hartley, 1-Alex Corbisiero

Replacements: 16-Lee Mears, 17-Dave Wilson, 18-Mouritz Botha, 19-Tom Wood, 20-Richard Wigglesworth, 21-Charlie Hodgson, 22-Charlie Sharples


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