Ford makes a case for the defence

England have attempted to lock down their saloon-door midfield for Saturday’s second Test against New Zealand by installing Jamie Noon at inside centre and Toby Flood at fly-half.

The recalled duo are among five changes England have made to the back division in response to last weekend’s 37-20 defeat to the All Blacks.

Winger Topsy Ojo, who scored twice on his debut at Eden Park, and centre Mike Tindall are the only survivors behind the scrum.

Danny Care will make his maiden Test start at scrum-half while Mathew Tait gets his chance at full-back and winger Tom Varndell returns to an England jersey for the first time in two years.

Tour manager Rob Andrew is anxious to run the rule over a number of young players ahead of the elite player squad announcement on July 1.

But the over-riding desire for change this week was to add ballast to an England midfield which failed to halt the All Blacks’ powerful ball carriers in Auckland last weekend.

Charlie Hodgson, who was singled out for most of the blame, has dropped out of the match 22 altogether while Olly Barkley must settle for a place on the bench.

Instead, Flood takes over in the director’s chair while Noon and Tindall will form an aggressively defensive midfield partnership.

They do not offer much natural creativity but, having shipped four tries in 21 minutes last Saturday, England’s priority is damage limitation.

Defence coach Mike Ford said: “As coaches we put down this week what is important now - whether a kicking game and variety in attack comes before defence. Probably not.

“We have got to defend and front up against these guys at the weekend. We have got to be with them after 60 minutes to stand any chance of winning the game. To do that we have to defend.

“We reviewed the game and the defence in particular and the way their points were scored. We had issues in the 10 and 12 channel and on the night we made individual errors.

“But the boys believe in the defensive system and they know if they had kept to it, it would have been much more difficult for New Zealand to break us down.

“The fact we have got Jamie Noon, one of the best defenders in England, at 12 has given us the added belief that we can tie that area up.

“We will be less fazed. We have been in the ring with the All Blacks now, the lads know how hard they punch - metaphorically - and hopefully they won’t be too intimidated this weekend.

“You have to stick with these young lads and make sure they get caps under their belt. That is how they gain experience.”

The inclusion of Noon instead of a more natural ball-playing, kicking inside centre like Barkley places more pressure on Flood.

But it is also an opportunity for Flood, who has been signed by Leicester predominantly as a fly-half even though he has started only two of his 17 England appearances in the 10 jersey.

“This is a big challenge. It is a hugely responsible position and hopefully I can slot back in at 10 and deal with the pressures that come with it,” he said.

“New Zealand ask big questions but with Jamie and Mike around it is hopefully something we can deal with.”

Varndell replaces David Strettle and is one of those Andrew and new manager Martin Johnson, who was consulted over the team selection, wants to watch with the EPS squad in mind.

While Andrew has made five changes in the backs, there is only one enforced change in the pack with Wasps loose-head prop Tim Payne replacing Andrew Sheridan, who was ruled out yesterday with a nasty cut to his eye.

Tom Palmer and captain Steve Borthwick continue in the second row after an impressive lineout performance while the dynamic back row unit of Tom Rees, James Haskell and Luke Narraway, which caused the All Blacks significant trouble, also remains unchanged.

“It was important that having given a good account of ourselves and done a reasonable job in the grand scheme of things that we had another look at the pack,” said forwards coach John Wells.

“Some of the players had question marks about whether they could perform at international level. Tom Palmer is one but when we look back at the video he did a lot of the unseen graft, a lot of tackles, ruck clearances and quality work.

“He has an opportunity to add to that and put something on his game. He is a good example of our guys who matched their New Zealand counterparts, many of whom were much more experienced.

“Their back row had well over 100 caps - ours had 14. Guys like Luke Narraway gets another opportunity because of the quality of his work at the weekend.

“We want to know if they can produce a better performance this week.”