BAGSHOT – Tom Curry and Sam Underhill will line up either side of Billy Vunipola in a new-look, highly mobile back row against Ireland on Saturday, as England coach Eddie Jones continues to juggle his resources in the team’s penultimate World Cup warm-up match.
Curry and Underhill bring a dynamic dimension to the flanks, where Jones still seems some way from settling on his preferred combination.
Curry will wear No 6, but both players are considered opensides and brought some real vigour to England’s breakdown work in their previous appearances.
Underhill, 23, impressed in last year’s autumn internationals, but then missed the Six Nations with an ankle injury, opening the door for 21-year-old Curry.
Jones said on Thursday that he was still not sure they would get to Saturday’s game in shape.
“They’ve still got to get through a training session – they’re like the kamikaze kids, those two,” he said.
Explaining his thinking in opting for two openside flanks, Jones said: “We feel the way the game’s going, it’s becoming a more contestable game, and we saw that in the last game at the breakdown.
“We think two guys who are pretty good in that area might bring us an advantage.”
Whether Jones will stick with the two youngsters when the tournament begins in
next month remains to be seen.
Mark Wilson, who is probably the favourite to make the World Cup starting team at blindside, is on the bench on Saturday after missing both Wales games.
Captain Owen Farrell will start his first game of the warm-up series, but at inside centre, alongside Manu Tuilagi for the first time, with George Ford at flyhalf.
It is the first time Jones has started with the Ford/Farrell combination since last year’s tour of South Africa – though the two played in those positions in the latter stages of last week’s defeat in Wales.
Jonny May also makes his first appearance this season on the left wing, with Joe Cokanasiga switching to the right and Elliot Daly remaining at fullback.
Prop Mako Vunipola, who has not played since suffering a serious hamstring injury in May, is on the bench.
“We have a specific way of how we want to play and the focus is very much on ourselves,” he said.
There was no place in the squad for uncapped Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie, who had to withdraw from both Wales games with late injuries.
Ireland named their team earlier on Thursday, with Ross Byrne handed a first start at flyhalf.
15 Elliot Daly 14 Joe Cokanasiga 13 Manu Tuilagi 12 Owen Farrell 11 Jonny May 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs 8 Billy Vunipola 7 Sam Underhill 6 Tom Curry 5 George Kruis 4 Maro Itoje 3 Kyle Sinckler 2 Jamie George 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie 17 Mako Vunipola 18 Dan Cole 19 Courtney Lawes 20 Mark Wilson 21 Willi Heinz 22 Piers Francis 23 Jonathan Joseph.