March 16, 2017 / 10:56 AM / 9 months ago

Watson and Billy Vunipola start for England

BAGSHOT, England (Reuters) - Winger Anthony Watson and number eight Billy Vunipola will both make their first starts of the championship after being selected by England coach Eddie Jones on Thursday for the Six Nations showdown with Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

Britain Rugby Union - England Training - Pennyhill Park - 14/3/17 England's Billy Vunipola during training Action Images via Reuters / Henry Browne Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Vunipola, who has come off the bench in the last two games following his recovery from a knee injury, starts in place of Nathan Hughes, who drops to the bench.

Watson, who entered the fray early against Scotland last week for the injured Elliot Daly - his first appearance since June - comes in on the right wing for Jack Nowell, who is also named among the replacements.

Daly has passed his concussion protocols and is fit to start on the left wing.

Victory will secure back-to-back grand slams for England and take their winning run to a tier one world record of 19, overhauling New Zealand’s run of 18 from 2015-16.

“It’s going to be quite an occasion in Dublin so we understand we have to be prepared emotionally, physically and mentally,” Jones said.

“We’re very excited ahead of what is a huge opportunity for the players. You sense the intensity has stepped up; it has in training.”

Ireland are second in the standings but things are so tight between them, Wales, France and Scotland that defeat could see them slip to fifth.

Britain Rugby Union - England Training - Pennyhill Park - 14/3/17 England's Anthony Watson during training Action Images via Reuters / Henry Browne

An Irish defeat combined with a Welsh win over France in Paris would also see Ireland drop out of the top four in the world rankings and consequently lose their top seeding for May’s draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

They also have a strong home record against England, having won six of the last nine meetings.

Despite these motivating factors, however, Jones described them on Thursday as “having nothing to play for”.

“That means they have the courage to fail which frees them up mentally,” said the Australian.

“We are a little bit vulnerable because we have already been crowned champions and we had a big win against Scotland, so for us it’s getting the right mind-set for the game.”

England team to play Ireland (1700 GMT):

15-Mike Brown, 14-Anthony Watson, 13-Jonathan Joseph, 12-Owen Farrell, 11-Elliot Daly, 10-George Ford, 9-Ben Youngs; 8-Billy Vunipola, 7-James Haskell, 6-Maro Itoje, 5-Courtney Lawes, 4-Joe Launchbury, 3-Dan Cole, 2-Dylan Hartley (captain), 1-Joe Marler.

Replacements: 16-Jamie George, 17-Mako Vunipola, 18-Kyle Sinckler 19-Tom Wood, 20-Nathan Hughes, 21-Danny Care, 22-Ben Te‘o, 23-Jack Nowell.

Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Gareth Jones

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