Johnson to have the luxury of picking England’s strongest XV

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Lewis Moody may have played just 60 minutes of international rugby this year, but Martin Johnson is confident his captain will be fit to lead England in New Zealand.

With the World Cup just nine days away, England have injury concerns over Moody, Nick Easter, Simon Shaw, Tom Wood, Ben Youngs and Mark Cueto.

Moody, Easter, Youngs and Cueto are all guaranteed a starting spot in England’s opening Pool B match with Argentina and both Shaw and Wood will be pushing hard for a first team spot in New Zealand.

So the fitness of all six is crucial to England’s World Cup bid and Johnson is happy with the progress they are all making.

“We’re pretty confident everyone will be fit to train,” said Johnson. “Tom Wood and Nick Easter, with their injuries in particular, and Mark Cueto should be fine by the end of the week.”

England’s 20-9 victory over Ireland failed to impress the bookmakers with Johnson’s side staying available at 14/1 to win the World Cup.

The defeat in the Millennium Stadium to Wales is still lingering on punters minds and Australia’s victory over New Zealand at the weekend means England’s job gets tougher.

Should England top Pool B – they are 2/7 to do so – Johnson’s side will likely face France in the quarter-final and Australia in the semi-final.

Both sides have struggled to beat England in World Cups but Australia’s victory over New Zealand suggests they are hitting form at the right time.

Australia were trimmed in to 3/1 to win the World Cup following last Saturday’s result while New Zealand remain solid at 8/13.

On current form it’s hard to see anyone other than these two teams meet in the final and it’s 11/4 that New Zealand beat Australia in the final or 7/1 that Australia beat New Zealand in the final.

Johnson may be confident of being able to pick his strongest fifteen from his 30-man squad, but whether the England coach knows what his strongest squad is remains to be seen and the edge is with the southern hemisphere teams at the moment.

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