England vs New Zealand: Manu Tuilagi left out as Chris Ashton and Sam Underhill start against All Blacks

Tuilagi has not done enough to return to the squad, with the only other change seeing Ben Moon win his first start for England

Jack de Menezes
Thursday 08 November 2018 12:48
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Eddie Jones: 'you are going to sack me at some stage'

Manu Tuilagi is still not fit enough to make his England comeback after Eddie Jones left him out of the squad to face New Zealand on Saturday, with the coach unwilling to risk a player key to his Rugby World Cup plans.

Jones was at pains to stress that Saturday’s Quilter International will not impact on what happens in Japan next year in terms of meaning, but there is the real risk that rushing Tuilagi back into action would be too much of a risk due to the threat of another long-term injury.

The 27-year-old Leicester Tigers centre was due to make his return in last weekend’s 12-11 win over South Africa, but withdrew on the eve of the match with a minor groin injury and, having assessed him after Wednesday’s double training session, Jones decided not to gamble with Tuilagi’s fitness.

Manu is just not quite right,” Jones said on Thursday. “He’s nearly there and we feel like he’ll be of enormous value to us in the future.

“Rather than take any risks with him we’re being quite conservative in his management.

“He’s at 99.9999 per cent but he’s just not quite right so we’re going to see if we get him 100 cent right.

“It would be nice if that’s for Japan (next week). We’ll worry about that next week.”

Although Tuilagi doesn’t return to the squad, Jones has still made changes to his team beyond the one enforced switch that sees Sam Underhill start at openside flanker in place of the injured Tom Curry, who will miss the rest of the autumn.

The biggest of those changes comes in the form of Chris Ashton being handed his first start since the 2014 summer tour of New Zealand, with the Sale Sharks wing replacing Jack Nowell in the starting XV, and Jones believes that Ashton’s deadly finishing – having scored 19 tries in 40 appearances – justifies promoting him from the replacements.

“It’s more of an order change,” Jones added. “Jack (Nowell) played exceptionally well for us last week but when you’re playing against New Zealand the 80 minutes are important.

“Jack has got an incredible work rate so we feel he’ll be enormously valuable for us in the last 20 minutes.

“Chris can sniff a try from anywhere. To beat New Zealand you have got to score tries. He’s in good form and has looked sharp, so we’ve given him the nod to start.”

Tuilagi will not be risked against the All Blacks 

Ashton is not the only player who returns after a spell out of the national side, with Underhill making his first appearance since the Six Nations defeat by Scotland after suffering from a long-term toe injury that curtailed his impressive start to England life. In his absence, Curry has emerged as Jones’ first-choice option at openside flanker, but with the Sale back-row sidelined for the foreseeable future Underhill has the chance to reclaim what was once his.

“We looked at a number of possibilities but we wanted a like for like player and Underhill is a like for like player,” Jones said of the Bath flanker.

“Curry is a very good player. Sam has had a few injury issues but this is a great opportunity for him.

"He’s strong at the breakdown good chop tackler and will certainly fill the role that Tom did so well in last week.”

Ashton is back in the starting line-up for the first time in more than four years

Jones’ third and final change comes in the front-row with Ben Moon selected for his first international start ahead of Exeter Chiefs teammate Alec Hepburn.

“Again it’s more of an order change than anything,” he explained. “Ben scrummaged well last so we’re confident he can do a good job for us.”

The Australian makes one other change to the match-day squad as Courtney Lawes returns from injury, albeit only to the replacements, in place of the unlucky Bath back-row Zach Mercer, who misses out on selection despite an impressive cameo off the bench against the Springboks.

“Courtney comes back and he’s an experienced Test player and a tough guy. He can fill lock and second row for us,” Jones said. “Zach made a good debut and is very disappointed, but there will be more opportunities for him in the future.

“Courtney has had a few injury problems and hasn’t played that much rugby, so we feel that for this game he’s best finishing the game for us.”

With a win over South Africa already in the bag, England can make a serious statement of intent against the All Blacks this weekend, and a victory against the long-time world No 1 side would send big reverberations through world rugby just 10 months out from the Rugby World Cup.

But they can ill-afford a slow start to the match similar to last week’s encounter, in which South Africa butchered numerous chances to score, and the 8-6 half-time deficit enabled England to get back into a game that they risked being overpowered out of.

“You’ve got to stay in there and keep doing the simple things well,” Jones said of his hope to avoid such a start. “If you stay in there long enough things can turn.

“Momentum is not an easy thing to turn. You’re either looking for a cohesive team effort or for one individual to do a brilliant thing and that’s not something you can practise.”

England squad vs New Zealand

Elliot Daly; Chris Ashton, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Ben Moon, DYlan Hartley, Kyle Sinckler; Maro Itoje, George Kruis; Brad Shields, Sam Underhill, Mark Wilson.

Replacements: Jamie George, Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, Charlie Ewels, Courtney Lawes, Danny Care, George Ford, Jack Nowell.

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