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England make nine changes to the team beaten by Ireland last March

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Eddie Jones has named an England team to face Tonga that shows nine changes from the defeat to Ireland last March that consigned them to a derisory fifth-place finish in the Guinness Six Nations. The head coach has since been on a mission to transform the squad with a view to the 2023 World Cup in France and multiple new players were blooded across the summer series while front-line players were touring with the Lions or rested.

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Jones has now balanced that July campaign with what took place earlier in 2021 and arrived at a much-changed XV that includes repositioning for Tom Curry from openside to No8. However, injury doubt Marcus Smith has settled for a bench role with Owen Farrell named at the starting No10.

It was already signposted there would be upheaval when Jones confirmed his XV for the Autumn Nations Series opener as Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Ollie Lawrence, George Ford, Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mark Wilson and Billy Vunipola, starters in the March loss to Ireland, weren’t chosen in the squad due to injury or being out of favour.

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Confirmation of the England team was delayed by 45 minutes on Thursday after it emerged that a member of the support staff had a positive lateral flow test for Covid and was now isolated, a development that resulted in everyone undergoing an additional lateral flow test.

Farrell, Jonny May, Ben Youngs, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje and Curry are the repeat starters from Dublin eight months ago. Farrell will captain the side at fly-half, with Curry, Ellis Genge and Courtney Lawes named England vice-captains. Manu Tuilagi makes his first appearance for England since March 2020 at centre with Henry Slade also in the midfield.

“We have had two good preparation camps in Jersey and Pennyhill Park, worked really hard and we are ready for a tough, physical game,” said Jones. “We respect Tonga greatly and we know that with props like Siegfried Fisi’ihoi and Ben Tameifuna, we are going to have to go in the front door before the back door. We are especially looking forward to getting back out in front of a full crowd at Twickenham and playing some entertaining, exciting rugby for all of the supporters, we can’t wait to have them back.”

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May and Adam Radwan will be on the wings, Freddie Steward is picked at full-back and Youngs is set to earn his 110th cap for England. Sinckler joins hooker Jamie George in the front row, while Itoje and Jonny Hill complete the tight-five. Sam Underhill will be openside flanker. Alex Mitchell could make his England debut after being named among the finishers.

Elsewhere Jamie Blamire, Alex Dombrandt and Smith could add to the caps they achieved for the first time this summer. Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels and George Furbank make up the remaining finishers.

ENGLAND (vs Tonga, Saturday)
15. Freddie Steward, 14. Adam Radwan, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Manu Tuilagi, 11. Jonny May, 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Ben Youngs, 1. Ellis Genge, 2. Jamie George, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Courtney Lawes, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Tom Curry. Reps: 16. Jamie Blamire, 17. Joe Marler, 18. Will Stuart, 19. Charlie Ewels, 20. Alex Dombrandt, 21. Alex Mitchell, 22. Marcus Smith, 23. George Furbank.

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