Billy Vunipola and Anthony Watson return to the starting line-up for England’s Grand Slam decider against Ireland this weekend, with Eddie Jones handing the No 8 his first start of the championship.
England know that victory against Ireland will secure a second consecutive Six Nations Grand Slam title under head coach Jones, while it will also break the current record for the most Test matches won in a row, which is currently jointly-held by New Zealand and the English.
Following last weekend’s 61-21 thrashing of Scotland last weekend that wrapped up the championship with a game to spare, England head to Dublin this weekend having made two changes to their starting XV.
Vunipola is a straight replacement for Wasps No 8 Nathan Hughes, while Bath wing Watson replaces Exeter’s Jack Nowell on the right wing, meaning that Elliot Daly is in line to pass all of the return-to-play protocols following his concussion against Scotland last weekend, provided he can come through England’s final contact training session on Thursday.
Both Hughes and Nowell are named among the replacements, meaning that Tommy Taylor and Jonny May are the two to miss out from this week’s training camp.
“We’ve had a really good week’s preparation,” said Jones.
“The intensity of training has been good. It’s going to be quite an occasion in Dublin so we understand we have to be prepared emotionally, physically and mentally.
“The mood in camp has been positive. We’re very excited ahead of what is a huge opportunity for the players. You sense the intensity has stepped up; it has in training, definitely.
“The message to the players has been quite simple, we’re playing Ireland on Saturday and that is the only thing that counts. We are focusing on preparing well, the only thing we can control is our preparation.
“Ireland not having anything to play for means they have the courage to fail which frees them up mentally, we are a little bit vulnerable because we have already been crowned the RBS Six Nations champions and we had a big win against Scotland, so for us it’s getting the right mind-set for the game.”
Six Nations team of the weekend - round four
Six Nations team of the weekend - round four
1/15 15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
The full-back flourished in bringing George North into the game as he repeatedly joined the back line to give Wales an extra man in attack. He tackled well, with a memorable stop on Rob Kearney halting an Irish attack in full flow. Has put himself back into the running for the Lions berth.
2/15 14. George North (Wales)
Back to his devastating best with two tries this week. His first was a brutal display of power as he carried both Simon Zebo and Keith Earls over the try line to score, while his second was the result of a great drive from the Welsh pack. A mazy run towards the end of the victory over Ireland triggered one last attack as his side searched in vain for the bonus point.
3/15 13. Jonathan Joseph (England)
A brilliant performance provided a timely reminder of what he is capable of. Three tries, each of differing styles, paved the way for England’s stunning 61-21 victory over Scotland. The first try saw Joseph display his pace and power, the second one came from dazzling footwork and the third saw him cut a lovely inside line to break cleanly from short range.
4/15 12. Owen Farrell (England)
After his horror show against Italy, Farrell was back to his best again to convert all but one of his kicks at goal – the one he missed was from his own half – and he was much smarter with his kicking to touch following the errors that littered his display a fortnight ago. Brought Joseph into the attack superbly, and finished the game at 10 once more.
5/15 11. Virimi Vakatawa (France)
A great week for the French wing as he scored a devastating try that put Italy out of the game and racked up more metres than anyone else this week, making an average of more than 10m per break. He beat eight defenders and made four clean breaks, and provided a display that proved just what a dangerous open-field runner he can be.
6/15 10. George Ford (England)
Ford was able to take the fight to Scotland with the pack providing him with front-foot ball to work with. The fly-half linked up superbly with Farrell outside him, and also brought his three-quarters into the game with devastating results.
7/15 9. Rhys Webb (Wales)
A strong performance from Webb saw him create the first try for North with a smart supporting run to take an offload from Scott Williams and release a beautiful wide pass for Halfpenny to run on to. He was alert in defence and got the better of Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray in their battle for the Lions No 9 shirt.
8/15 1. Rob Evans (Wales)
A strong performance from the loosehead against an Irish scrum that until now had gotten the better of all its opponents. Carried multiple times, albeit with little success, but that took its toll on the Irish defence as it tired.
9/15 2. Guilhem Guirado (France)
The standout hooker this week as the French captain led by example, making an impressive 31 metres with the ball in hand and 11 tackles in defence, not to mention sealing a turnover in the process.
10/15 3. Rabah Slimani (France)
Joins his skipper in the front row after displacing Uini Atonio in the side and delivering much better performances. An impressive showing in the loose.
11/15 4. Joe Launchbury (England)
A candidate for player of the tournament. Launchbury has excelled on his return to the Test fold, and he once again led by example as he made a phenomenal 22 tackles against Scotland, as well as enjoying success with the ball in hand.
12/15 5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Return to form this week as he put his body on the line, making 18 tackles and 14 carries. He also disrupted the Irish lineout, stealing one throw on his own 5m line, but his best performance came in terms of his decision-making as he got all the big calls right.
13/15 6. Sam Warburton (Wales)
A brilliant performance in defence saw Warburton set the tone for Wales’s physical dominance over Ireland. He made more tackles than anyone else on the pitch in Cardiff, and he looks to be suited to not having the burden of the captaincy hanging over him.
14/15 7. Kevin Gourdon (France)
France have found their natural replacement for Thierry Dusautoir as Gourdon once again displayed his talents in the win over Italy. He carried well for more than 50 metres, and did his job in defence to slow down the Italian attack at the breakdown.
15/15 8. Nathan Hughes (England)
Scotland made the mistake of not double-marking him, and he ran riot as a result. The Wasps No 8 appeared to send out a message that the returning Billy Vunipola would not be taking his shirt easily, and made an impressive 74 metres from 11 carries.
Despite not being named in the starting XV, Northampton Saints flanker Tom Wood is in line to make his 50th appearance if he comes off the replacements’ bench, and Jones paid testament to what he has offered the team since coming back into the international fold, having originally been left out of Jones’s plans this time last year.
“I congratulate Tom Wood on his personal milestone,” Jones added. “He is a committed team man, who has fought his way back into this set-up and has been a great contributor to the team on and off the field. He works very hard and it’s a great reward for him.”
England team to face Ireland:
15. Mike Brown (vice captain, Harlequins, 59 caps)
14. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, 25 caps)
13. Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby, 32 caps)
12. Owen Farrell (vice captain, Saracens, 51 caps)
11. Elliot Daly (Wasps, 12 caps)
10. George Ford (Bath Rugby, 34 caps)
9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 69 caps)
1. Joe Marler (Harlequins, 50 caps)
2. Dylan Hartley (captain, Northampton Saints, 83 caps)
3. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 73 caps)
4. Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 41 caps)
5. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 57 caps)
6. Maro Itoje (Saracens, 11caps)
7. James Haskell (Wasps, 74 caps)
8. Billy Vunipola (vice captain, Saracens 33 caps)
16. Jamie George (Saracens, 16 caps)
17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 41 caps)
18. Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, 7 caps)
19. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints, 49 caps)
20. Nathan Hughes (Wasps, 7 caps)
21. Danny Care (Harlequins, 70 caps)
22. Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors, 7 caps)
23. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 22 caps)Reuse content