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.”
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)
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