Eddie Jones called up Billy Vunipola to the starting line-up for Saturday’s clash with New Zealand as one of three changes to his side. Vunipola sits at number 8 with Sam Simmonds switching to blind-side flanker in a striking change up the England back line.
Vunipola was knocked out for the seven-try win over Japan last time out after a mistake-filled performance against Argentina, but returns to add ballast to the side. Simmonds had only started for England at number 8 before but, as The Guardian first reported, he has been training this week in a new back row alongside Tom Curry and Vunipola with Jones opting to start all three. Maro Itoje returns to the second row as a result, with David Ribbans dropping to the bench.
Elsewhere, Jack Nowell has recovered from his abdominal wall injury to take his place on the right wing in place of the injured Joe Cokanasiga, while Manu Tuilagi returns to the wing as outside center for Guy Porter. Otherwise, Jones has stuck with the team that comprehensively beat Japan last time out with Owen Farrell captaining the team and winning his 100th cap for England.
Jones’ decision to select Vunipola and Simmonds leaves England with one fewer option in the lineout and the head coach has repeatedly insisted on the need for three jumpers this autumn. However, he has also talked about keeping things up his sleeve ahead of the World Cup, citing the lineout as an example of where that could be done. What England will lose in the lineout, they will gain in dynamic ball handling with Jones opting for a backline combination similar to the one that featured in the 2019 World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand with Simmonds replacing Sam Underhill.
“This game doesn’t come around too often and these are the games that players look back on in their careers,” Jones said of New Zealand’s first visit to Twickenham since 2018. “New Zealand have had the upper hand over the years , but it’s been more balanced of late and players get a chance to play their part in the story. We’ve had a great week getting ready for the game and the team is ready to go. We are very happy for Owen that he is reaching such a significant and special milestone. He is an excellent player and competitor and he deserves every game”.
At forwards, Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Kyle Sinckler continue, as does Jonny Hill at blocking, while Jack van Poortvliet maintains his place at scrum half. Marcus Smith is back at fly half with Jonny May and Freddie Steward completing the back line. Will Stuart has recovered from his knee injury to take his place on the bench and is set for his first appearance in the fall, while Ben Youngs, Porter and Henry Slade complete the list of replacements.