BAGSHOT, England (Reuters) - England co-captain Dylan Hartley will start on the bench against Australia on Saturday with Jamie George wearing the hooker’s jersey, while Manu Tuilagi is set for his first appearance for two years after also being named among the replacements.
After his try-scoring debut in the 35-15 victory over Japan last week, Joe Cokanasiga retains his place on the wing with injuries ruling out Chris Ashton and Jack Nowell. Jonny May is on the other wing.
The back row comprises Sam Underhill, Brad Shields and number eight Mark Wilson, with replacement Nathan Hughes set for his first appearance in the November test series after returning from suspension.
Owen Farrell returns at flyhalf with Ben Te’o and Henry Slade outside him and George Ford on the bench as coach Eddie Jones made nine personnel and three positional changes to the side that beat Japan last Saturday.
British and Irish Lions hooker George has spent the last three years as backup to Hartley and though he started against Japan, Thursday’s selection looks a significant change in terms of Jones’s World Cup plans.
Jones, as ever, played it down as he stressed the importance of his finishers and said this selection was particular for Saturday’s challenge.
“We think Australia will come out like they normally do - like a bull in a china shop,” he said. “Jamie is a very good defender and is very good when the play is open. I think he suits us in that first period of the game.
“I think the last part is going to be bit of an arm wrestle and that’s where Dylan is at his best.”
Tuilagi was initially named among the replacements for the opening game against South Africa but withdrew with a groin injury that has kept him on the sidelines since.
The powerful Leicester centre has played only a few minutes for England since his last start in 2014 after suffering a series of injuries, but Jones has long been an admirer.
His line-breaking ability gives England an extra dimension in attack and should he join Te’o it would produce a formidable midfield in terms of power.
Hughes also offers the heavyweight ball-carrying option missing with the absence of Billy Vunipola and Jones said he was in the best condition he has seen him in for three years.
“He’s worked hard courtesy of his tweet and his ready to go,” the Australian said in relation to the extended ban Hughes received for tweeting “what a joke” after his initial suspension for punching.
Since losing to the Wallabies in the pool stage of the 2015 World Cup England have won all five of the teams’ meetings, including a 3-0 series sweep in Australia in 2016.
That World Cup game was the Wallabies’ only success in their last five games against England at Twickenham.
They arrive on Saturday at the end of one of their worst years for decades, with last week’s 26-7 victory over Italy taking their 2018 record to four wins from 12.
The Wallaby camp has been hit by a virus this week and coach Michael Cheika has delayed naming his team until later on Thursday.
Saturday’s game will be the 50th meeting of the two teams, with England winning 23 and Australia 25. The most famous of all of them took place 15 years ago today, when Jonny Wilkinson’s last-gasp drop goal won the World Cup final in Sydney as England became the first and still the only northern hemisphere nation to win the sport’s ultimate prize.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by John Stonestreet, Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge