Eddie Jones recalled George Furbank as a full-back and bumped Sam Underhill onto the openside flanker as England named their squad for Saturday’s Six Nations closer to France in Paris.
Northampton’s Furbank returns for a first appearance ago the victory over Tonga at Twickenham in early Novemberwhile Underhill is back about a week after Jones said the Bath man was not fit to play international rugby.
Jones referred to it as “refreshing the team” and there may be a strategy of extra kicks and a shift in defense, but there will be public confusion in moving the shapely back Freddie Steward to the wing.
The policy may be to create attempts through pressure as England are trying to improve on a paltry seven attempts in four Six Nations matches are only two more than Wales, who have not played against Italy yet, and far below Ireland, France and Scotland at 20, 14 and 10 respectively.
France is hot favorites going after a Grand Slam and the first Six Nations title since 2010, while England can only be number three in the table at best.
That red card to Charlie Ewels in the second row early last Saturday’s home loss to Ireland did not help England, but the fluency of the three attempts they put past world-ranked South Africa this autumn has been absent in this Six Nations.
Saracens’ utility back Max Malins was dropped from the squad earlier this week after playing every minute of the championship, possibly due to defensive and kicking fragility.
With the injured Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Watson and Jonny May never available, Jones will end the championship with a starting rear division of halfbacks Ben Youngs and Marcus Smith, three-quarters Henry Slade, Joe Marchant, Jack Nowell and Steward, and fullback Furbank.
A hamstring injury on flanker Tom Curry has opened a berth for Underhill, who is very experienced but very easily driven lately with head injury problems that have limited him to a two-month club appearance for Bath.
- 15. George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 5 internationals)
- 14. Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 9 internationals)
- 13. Joe Marchant (Harlequins, 11 caps)
- 12. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 47 caps)
- 11. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 38 caps)
- Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 9 internationals)
- 9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 116 internationals)
- 1. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 35 internationals)
- 2. Jamie George (Saracens, 65 caps)
- 3. Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 19 internationals)
- Maro Itoje (Saracens, 55 international caps)
- 5. Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, 6 international caps)
- Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 92 caps)
- 7. Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 27 internationals)
- 8. Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 13 internationals)
- 16. Nic Dolly (Leicester Tigers, 1 cap)
- 17. Joe Marler (Harlequins, 78 caps)
- 18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 51 caps)
- 19. Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 1 international)
- 20. Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins, 8 internationals)
- 21. Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, 5 internationals)
- 22. George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 80 internationals)
- 23. Elliot Daly (Saracens, 56 internationals)
France, meanwhile, have recreated Damian Penaud on the right wing for their Grand Slam match against England in Paris on Saturday.
Penaud missed the 13-9 victory in round four over Wales after testing positive for Covid, but has recovered to take over Yoram Moefana’s place in the only change to start XV.
Lock Romain Taofifenua also missed the trip to Cardiff due to coronavirus and is selected on the bench as part of a six-to-two split between strikers and backs, signaling a renewed attack in the second half from the pack.
This year’s reigning world player Antoine Dupont leads France as they look to claim their first championship title since 2010.
France’s team selection shows remarkable continuity through Six Nations with 11 players starting all five matches, with all but one of the changes made to the tournament, enforced by Covid.
In total, there are nine players from Toulouse, the current Top 14 and Europa Cup champions, but head coach Fabien Galthie insists that club colors are irrelevant on the international stage.
“These players have won a number of victories recently – but for the French team,” said Galthie.
“In my team, there is no such thing as the Toulouse, Bordeaux or Clermont players. It is the French national team that is going to this last meeting.”
Starting XV: M Jaminet; D Penaud, G Fickou, J Danty, G Villiere; R Ntamack, A Dupont (capt); C Baille, J Marchand, U Atonio, C Woki, P Willimse, F Cros, A Jelonch, G Alldritt.
Replacements: P Mauvaka, JB Gros, M Haouas, R Taofifenua, T Flament, D Cretin, M Lucu, T Ramos.
Additional reporting from agencies