Billy Vunipola has been named to start in England’s World Cup quarter-final against Australia having overcome injury, but Eddie Jones has dropped a selection bombshell by moving his captain Owen Farrell back to fly-half.
Due to the cancellation of their final Pool C match against France, England will have not played for a fortnight by the time the game starts in Oita on Saturday afternoon.
Jones has made three changes to his team, and another on the bench. Henry Slade comes in for George Ford, who has been one of England’s best players at the tournament and had started all three matches so far. Slade starts at outside centre, shifting Manu Tuilagi and Farrell in a place each and reuniting the midfield from this year’s Six Nations.
At lock, Courtney Lawes has replaced George Kruis, while Mako Vunipola comes in for Joe Marler at loosehead for his first start since the Champions Cup final in May.
The long break between games has given Billy Vunipola time to recover from an ankle injury that forced him off at half-time against Argentina.
That is not the case for Jack Nowell, however. He picked up a hamstring injury and is replaced on the bench by Jonathan Joseph.
“Once you get to the quarter-finals it’s about having the right mindset,” said Jones. “We know how well we can play, it’s about us playing to our strengths and trying to take away from what Australia want.
“Australia are a clever team, they will have some specific attacking strategies to play against us so we need to have a great situational awareness. We need to defend with brutality and when we have the ball we need play on top of them.”
On wing Jonny May reaching 50 caps for England, Jones added: “It is a great achievement and an honour for him and his family. Everyone in the team is really pleased for him. I think this World Cup has really shown how hard he has worked at his game. He has come back from a significant knee injury to be close to the fastest winger, if not the fastest winger in the world, and has the ability to score tries from any situation.”
Australia are due to name their team later today, with reports suggesting rookie Jordan Petaia will start at outside centre for the first time.