England have taken the unexpected step of naming two number eights in their back row for Saturday’s headline clash of the autumn against New Zealand.
Sam Simmonds and Billy Vunipola will offer Eddie Jones’ men explosive ball carrying options in a bold selection that was first seen when they were paired together at the end of last Saturday’s thumping victory over Japan.
Both players are specialist number eights with Vunipola filling the position for his entire career and Simmonds’ last appearance at flanker coming in the Premiership five years ago.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 17, 2022
Jones has made three changes in personnel and one positional switch to the side that crushed Japan 52-13, a result that nudged England’s autumn back on track having lost the opener against Argentina.
Vunipola’s return to the back row sees Maro Itoje shift from blindside flanker to lock with Simmonds filling the vacant jersey at six.
There are two changes behind the scrum with Jack Nowell recovering from an abdominal injury to return to the right wing and Manu Tuilagi displaces Guy Porter at outside centre.
Owen Farrell will become the third England player to reach 100 caps when he leads the team out in the penultimate Test of the autumn.
“This fixture doesn’t come around too often and these are the games that players remember in their careers,” Jones said.
“New Zealand have had the upper hand over the years, but it’s been more balanced in recent times and the players have a chance to play their part in history.
“We’ve had a great week preparing for the game and the team is ready to go at them.
“We’re really pleased for Owen that he is reaching such a significant and special milestone. He is an excellent player and competitor and he is deserving of every cap.”