England will unleash a destructive centre partnership of Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi upon Italy in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash at Twickenham.
It is the first time the powerful carriers have started together, with Henry Slade dropping to the bench to accommodate Tuilagi’s switch to 13 and Te’o’s inclusion at inside centre.
The pair were deployed in tandem for five minutes of last autumn’s 37-18 victory over Australia and have run alongside each other extensively during training.
“We saw them at the end of the game against Australia. It’s always something we wanted to look at in order to develop another option,” head coach Eddie Jones said.
“We’ve been really happy with Henry Slade, but this just gives us another way of playing so we’re looking forward to it.”
Captain and fly-half Owen Farrell, however, insists there is more to their game than simple brute force.
“We got bit of a taste of it against Australia. They’re two lads who can do a lot of damage, but who also have some subtleties to their game as well,” Farrell said.
Continuing the theme of a bulldozing backline – emphatically the biggest of the Eddie Jones era – is Joe Cokanasiga’s inclusion on the right wing after Jack Nowell failed to recover from a shoulder injury.
Cokanasiga will win his fourth cap after making his Six Nations debut against Wales in Cardiff, deploying his 6’4″ and 18 stones frame outside a midfield duo that weigh in at a combined 34 stones.
“It shows the difference in the team. I remember playing Australia three years ago and we were 8kgs per player lighter,” Jones said.
“We’re able now to pick a big backline which can play a little bit differently. That gives us another option.”
The backline otherwise remains unchanged with Ben Youngs and Farrell continuing at half-back in a selection that sees Dan Robson and George Ford overlooked once again.
In total there are five changes in personnel to the side dispatched 21-13 at the Principality Stadium on February 23, including Joe Launchbury’s elevation to the starting XV after Maro Itoje lost his battle with a knee injury.
It was hoped that Itoje would recover from his medial ligament damage to fill the void created by Courtney Lawes’ calf strain, but a setback in training means that Launchbury and George Kruis will pack down together for only the second time.
Ellis Genge starts at loosehead prop in a front row that includes Kyle Sinckler, the combative pair starting together for for the first time.
They were were uncapped rookies when Jones picked them for the 2016 tour to Australia and even then they made their presence felt.
“I can remember having a session somewhere on the Gold Coast for the Australia tour and we took these two young props,” Jones said.
“They wanted to fight with everyone and argue with everyone. For the whole session we just tried to keep those two calm.
“What’s important is how you respond and so far the response in training has been excellent."March 7, 2019
“They’re still learning their trade. We’ve got to understand that. Being a tighthead prop and being a loosehead prop are difficult assignments.
“Those guys are being asked to do the same things that back rows did 10 years ago – plus with guys treading on their toes and pulling their hair and all those sorts of things.
“They’ll learn with each game and that’s what we’re seeing.”
- Press Association