Eddie Jones has recalled Billy Vunipola to the starting lineup for Saturday’s clash with New Zealand as one of three changes to his side. Vunipola slots in at No 8 with Sam Simmonds shifting to blindside flanker in an eye-catching change to England’s back row.
Vunipola was dropped for the seven-try victory over Japan last time out after an error-strewn performance against Argentina but returns to add ballast to the side. Simmonds has only ever started for England at No 8 before but, as first flagged by the Guardian, has been training this week in a new-look back row alongside Tom Curry and Vunipola with Jones opting to start all three. Maro Itoje moves back into the second row as a result of 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 comes back into the side at outside-centre for Guy Porter. Otherwise, Jones has stuck by the side that overcame Japan comprehensively last time out with Owen Farrell captaining the side and winning his 100th England cap.
Jones’s decision to pick Vunipola and Simmonds leaves England with one less lineout option and the head coach has repeatedly insisted on the need to have three jumpers this autumn. He has also talked about keeping things up his sleeve before the World Cup, however, and cited the lineout as an example where that could be done. What England will lose at the lineout, they will gain in dynamic ball-carrying with Jones opting for a back-row blend similar to that which appeared in the 2019 World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand with Simmonds replacing Sam Underhill.
“This fixture doesn’t come around too often and these are the games that players remember in their careers,” said Jones 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 in recent times and the players have a chance to play their part in history. We’ve had a great week preparing for the game and the team is ready to go to them. We’re really pleased for Owen that he is reaching such a significant and special milestone. He is an excellent player and competitor and he is deserving of every cap.”
In the forwards, Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Kyle Sinckler continue, as does Jonny Hill at lock, while Jack van Poortvliet keeps his place at scrum-half. Marcus Smith is again 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 a first autumn appearance while Ben Youngs, Porter and Henry Slade complete the list of replacements.