England have selected Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph as their centre pairing for Saturday’s World Cup warm-up game against Ireland at Twickenham.
It will be the first time Barritt and Joseph have started a match together, although they formed makeshift midfields midway through Tests against New Zealand and Australia, in what is the 13th different 12-13 axis of Stuart Lancaster’s reign.
Barritt has recovered from a calf problem to take his place at inside centre for his first appearance since finishing as the bloodied hero of last autumn’s victory over Australia.
George Ford lines-up at fly-half in a midfield trio likely to be England’s preferred choice for the World Cup opener against Fiji on September 18.
Sam Burgess supplies midfield cover from the bench and will win his second cap if he is called upon at Twickenham.
Number eight Ben Morgan will make his second appearance since breaking his leg on club duty with Gloucester in January, while Geoff Parling returns to the second row.
There are five changes to the starting 15 toppled 25-20 by Les Bleus with wing Anthony Watson, flanker Tom Wood, Barritt, Parling and Morgan drafted into the side.
“It’s great to see Brad back along with the guys that missed the Six Nations such as Ben Morgan, Joe Launchbury and Owen Farrell, who now have a Test match under their belts,” Lancaster said.
“It leaves us with lots of options both starting and from the bench.”
England were dire at the Stade de France and the visit of Ireland has been transformed into an encounter they dare not lose. “It’s a game we definitely want to win because it will build momentum heading into Fiji. We’ll know more about our players after this weekend,” Lancaster said.
Meanwhile, Scotland coach Vern Cotter said he never gave the potential for a public backlash a second thought as he handed New Zealand-born John Hardie a controversial World Cup call-up. The former Highlanders flanker has won a place in the 31-man Dark Blues squad for next month’s tournament in England just five weeks after touching down on Scottish soil for the first time.
The 27-year-old, currently without a club, was tipped for an All Blacks slot but, when it became clear that would not happen in time for this year’s showpiece, he switched allegiances to Scotland, for whom he qualifies through his Fife-born grandmother.
But Cotter’s decision has already sparked a storm of protest, with former Lions prop Peter Wright claiming the snub to Scotland’s homegrown talent is a “disgrace”.
Cotter, whose side will face Japan in their Pool B opener in Gloucester on September 23, said: “We looked really at performance and what players could bring to the mix. That’s how we looked at it — purely on what we thought we could get on the paddock.”
Meanwhile two Irishmen have been named in the USA Eagles squad for the Rugby World Cup.
AJ MacGinty is an out-half from Dublin and former schools rugby player with Blackrock College. Former Dolphin flanker John Quill from Co Cork is also included, qualifying to play through his US-born mother.
The Eagles are in Pool B alongside South Africa, Samoa, Japan and Scotland.
England team to play Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday September 5, 2.30pm:
M Brown (Harlequins); A Watson (Bath), J Joseph (Bath), B Barritt (Saracens), J May (Gloucester); G Ford (Bath), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), C Lawes (Northampton), G Parling (Exeter), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Morgan (Gloucester)
J George (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), K Brookes (Northampton), J Launchbury (Wasps), B Vunipola (Saracens), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), O Farrell (Saracens), S Burgess (Bath).
Scotland World Cup squad:
David Denton, John Hardie, Josh Strauss, Alasdair Strokosch, Ryan Wilson, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Tim Swinson, Fraser Brown, Ross Ford, Stuart McInally, Alasdair Dickinson, Ryan Grant, Gordon Reid, Willem Nel, Jon Welsh.
Sean Lamont, Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Tim Visser, Mark Bennett, Peter Horne, Matt Scott, Richie Vernon, Finn Russell, Duncan Weir, Stuart Hogg, Greig Laidlaw, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Henry Pyrgos.
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