Billy Vunipola will make his return to the England side after being named among the replacements to face Scotland for Saturday’s Six Nations Calcutta Cup match against Scotland, with Eddie Jones making three changes to his starting line-up.
Jones was keen to experiment with his side in the 36-15 victory over Scotland two weeks’ ago, which led to the likes of Jonathan Joseph and Ben Youngs being left out. The pair return to the side along with Jack Nowell, but Vunipola has to make do with a place on the bench after recovering three weeks ahead of schedule from damaged knee ligaments to feature in the Six Nations, having suffered the injury during last November’s autumn international victory over Argentina.
The head coach reverts back to his strongest line-up for the visit of Scotland to Twickenham, with England looking to record a 17th consecutive victory to tie New Zealand’s international record – one that England can beat if they win their final two Six Nations matches – as well as take the next stride in their quest to claim a second consecutive Grand Slam.
Nowell comes back into the side, having come off the replacements’ bench to score two tries against Italy, and the Exeter Chiefs back replaces Jonny May. The Gloucester wing, May, misses out of the matchday squad altogether as Bath’s Anthony Watson is named on the bench, having returned from a hamstring injury for his club last weekend.
Youngs returns at scrum-half in place of Danny Care while Joseph comes back into the side to replace Ben Te’o at outside centre, with both Care and Te’o dropping to the replacements.
The team is not the same as the one that appeared on a tactics whiteboard beside England’s training pitch on Tuesday, with Nathan Jones retaining his place at No 8 after it was initially suggested that Vunipola would return to the starting line-up. Instead, the Saracens back-row joins his older brother, Mako, among the replacements, as Joe Marler continues at loosehead prop to win his 50th cap.
“Our preparation for Scotland has been very good,” said Jones. “We had two excellent training runs in Oxford last week and followed that up this week.
“We’re focused on ourselves; we want to give our fans a really good performance. We’ve worked hard in this RBS Six Nations and feel like a good performance is just around the corner.
“This is the 124th Calcutta Cup and I feel humbled and honoured to be part of such an historic rugby occasion, it’s the oldest international fixture and means a lot to both countries. We treasure the experience.
“I congratulate Joe Marler on his 50-cap milestone. I’ve coached a lot of good players and he is certainly one of the best. He is an honest and committed team man and a fine individual. To have him and Mako Vunipola available together to give us 80 minutes at loose-head is an enormous advantage.”
Lions starting XV - Six Nations round three
Lions starting XV - Six Nations round three
1/15 15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Miles clear of Mike Brown and Rob Kearney and looks a much better option for running the ball than Leigh Halfpenny right now. Hogg has been nothing short of brilliant going forwards, and despite not possessing the kicking option or the defensive nous of Halfpenny, he’s one of the first names on the teamsheet.
2/15 14. Liam Williams (Wales)
Ousts international teammate George North after the Northampton Saints wing proved anonymous against Scotland. Williams has scored a try in every round so far and is proving his weight in gold as a finisher, while he’s also accustomed to coming off his wing to find work.
3/15 13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
He is still the safest option at outside centre, but the chasing pack are closing in after a strong weekend for 13s. Garry Ringsrose is improving with every week, while Huw Jones offers more with the ball in hand than Davies, whose powerful and direct running keep him in the side. Ben Te’o also showed what he can offer, though time is running out for him and Jonathan Joseph is likely to come back into the England side to face Scotland.
4/15 12. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
Henshaw gives you the understanding with Jonathan Sexton combined with a player who not only thrives on front-foot ball but also can cope with beating the gain line when on the back-foot – a very handy trait to have in the locker. He can also cover at outside centre, which on a Lions tour is a major boost.
5/15 11. Elliot Daly (England)
Deals with every challenge thrown at him and crossed the try line for the second match running to help trigger the fightback against Italy. Possesses a reliable, howitzer of a left foot, which is Halfpenny is out of the side will be a useful tool in New Zealand.
6/15 10. Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
Returned in style to force Owen Farrell out of the side and prove he will not give up the Lions 10 jersey easily. Injuries have dogged him this season, but it took him 40 minutes to show what he can offer as he got the Irish backline firing on all cylinders.
7/15 9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
Had Greig Laidlaw been available this week, Murray could still have forced his way back in to the side. A man-of-the-match display in Dublin – including the only try of the game – helped Ireland record back-to-back wins and his box-kicking remains the best in the business.
8/15 1. Mako Vunipola (England)
His impact from the bench was certainly noticeable as the English scrum finally got the better of the Italian pack, and with plenty of time for the loosehead to regain full fitness, there’s no reason why he won’t don the No 1 shirt on 24 June as long as he avoids any more setbacks.
9/15 2. Rory Best (Ireland)
He’s still ahead of Dylan Hartley, but Jamie George is breathing down his neck and it’s only down to Best’s strong performance against France – with a 100 per cent lineout record from 17 throws – and a solid defensive showing that keeps him in the side. With leaders elsewhere though, George might just find himself in favour come the end of the Six Nations.
10/15 3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
He re-established the gap between himself and Dan Cole with a very impressive outing in the loose for Ireland, and he is also a third of one of Europe’s strongest front-rows right now.
11/15 4. Joe Launchbury (England)
The England lock has to come into the side after yet another man-of-the-match performance against Italy. The Wasps skipper is giving Warren Gatland plenty to think about, having proven himself in the lineout and also with his desire to carry. But with Alun Wyn Jones, Richie Gray, Devin Toner and Courtney Lawes also knocking on the door, not to mention the injured George Kruis hoping to somehow prove his fitness, it’s an awfully difficult task to pick the second-row.
12/15 5. Jonny Gray (Scotland)
Gray shifts from four to five but remains the standout option in the Six Nations based on the last three rounds. Having started the championship as possible squad inclusion, he’s suddenly looking undroppable from the first XV.
13/15 6. Maro Itoje (England)
Itoje offers too much to the squad to leave out. He packs down in the second-row for England, leads the lineout by example with another two steals at the weekend, and is both a formidable tackler and carrier. He simply has to slot in somewhere, and he’s currently making the No 6 shirt his own.
14/15 7. Justin Tipuric (Wales)
Tipuric holds onto the shirt despite experiencing a difficult week given that there is not much competition around. Neither James Haskell nor John Hardie – now out for the rest of the Six Nations – were able to take their chance at the weekend, and while Sean O’Brien and Hamish Watson impressed, you’d still rather have a livewire like Tipuric in the side.
15/15 8. Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
Billy Vunipola finally drops out of the side after hinting that a Six Nations return may be beyond him. In comes Ireland’s vice-captain Jamie Heaslip, and with Taulupe Faletau yet to find his best from the replacements’ bench, it’s Heaslip who has led the way with strong outings against Italy and France.
England squad against Scotland
15. Mike Brown (Harlequins, 58 caps)
14. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 21 caps)
13. Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby, 31 caps)
12. Owen Farrell (Saracens, 50 caps)
11. Elliot Daly (Wasps, 11 caps)
10. George Ford (Bath Rugby, 33 caps)
9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 68 caps)
1. Joe Marler (Harlequins, 49 caps)
2. Dylan Hartley (captain, Northampton Saints, 82 caps)
3. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 72 caps)
4. Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 40 caps)
5. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 56 caps)
6. Maro Itoje (Saracens, 10 caps)
7. James Haskell (Wasps, 73 caps)
8. Nathan Hughes (Wasps, 6 caps)
16. Jamie George (Saracens, 15 caps)
17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 40 caps)
18. Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, 6 caps)
19. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints, 48 caps)
20. Billy Vunipola (Saracens 32 caps)
21. Danny Care (Harlequins, 69 caps)
22. Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors, 6 caps)
23. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, 24 caps)Reuse content