Eddie Jones has dismissed the suggestion that he is failing to evolve his starting England XV after he unveiled a team to face France in Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final versus France that contains 13 of the 15 players who started the November 2019 World Cup final defeat to South Africa.

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With Anthony Watson restored to the side to face the French in the absence of the injured Jonathan Joseph following last weekend’s win in Wales, there are only two players missing from the XV that lost to the Springboks in Yokohama.

They are the injured midfielder Manu Tuilagi and George Kruis, the second row no longer available for selection due to his club rugby switch to Japan from Saracens.

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The utterly ruthless way France assistant Shaun Edwards prepares rugby teams

It means England will go into their latest cup final appearance on Sunday with an XV containing 813 caps – the most experienced England team of all time – but Jones insisted change was happening despite the allegation that his selection didn’t suggest much evolution these past 13 months. 

The stats don’t indicate that,” he claimed. “Our average age in the World Cup was 27.7. I think our average age now of our starting XV is 26.9 to be precise.

“We are rebuilding the team but we are rebuilding it in our own way. You guys [the media] like to have massive changes, you like to have big headlines, but we’re doing it in a systematic and a progressive way to get our World Cup 2023 team to be in the right age bracket with the right number of caps.” 

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Aside from including Watson, Jones tweaked the England bench and opted for a 5/3 split and note the 6/2 forwards/backs selection he had with him in Llanelli, flanker Jack Willis losing out for utility back Max Malins. Joe Marchant took the bench spot vacated by the promoted Watson.   

The England coach expressed his delight that his team were back in a tournament final but he did admit they have approached preparations differently to what they did in Japan last year.

“We have had a bit of a peaking week this week,” he explained. “We have changed the training week to make sure we are at our absolute best on Sunday. We probably learned from the World Cup where in retrospect we probably underprepared. 

“We feel we have got the right balance in terms of physical and recovery work this week and the boys trained outstandingly well at Twickenham on Wednesday.

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“It’s such an exciting final for rugby to have fans back (2,000 are allowed at Twickenham), to have probably the two best sides in Europe playing in the final of an inaugural competition which produced some good, tough rugby. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the game.”

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