Flanker Willis to make England debut against Georgia

Mitch Phillips
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Premiership Semi Final - Wasps v Bristol Bears
FILE PHOTO: Premiership Semi Final - Wasps v Bristol Bears

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - Wasps flanker Jack Willis will make his England debut against Georgia at Twickenham on Saturday, while Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence and Bath prop Will Stuart get their first starts in the team's opening game of the Autumn Nations Cup.

England coach Eddie Jones named the team on Thursday, which also featured Maro Itoje as blindside flanker behind a powerful second row pairing of Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels.

Elliot Daly, who missed the Six Nations win over Italy two weeks ago through injury, returns at fullback, with Jonathan Joseph and Jonny May taking the wing berths in the absence of the injured Anthony Watson.

Lawrence, who made his debut off the bench against Italy, is at outside centre, with Henry Slade at 12.

Ellis Genge gets a rare start at loosehead prop while Max Malins, Bristol's uncapped fullback on loan from Saracens, and Harlequins centre Joe Marchant, who won the last of his three caps in the 2019 World Cup warm-ups, are among the replacements.

It is the selection of Willis, however, which catches the eye after he failed to make the squad against Italy.

In the recently-finished English Premiership season he made an extraordinary 46 turnovers - the next best in the league was Blair Cowan on 19 - showing an amazing combination of anticipation, judgement, strength and athleticism.

His efforts helped propel Wasps to the Premiership final, where they lost to Exeter, and also earned him the league's Player's Player of the year award and Premiership Player of the year title.

The debut will be particularly sweet for Willis, who was picked in the England squad to tour South Africa in 2018 but then suffered a serious knee injury that kept him on the sidelines for months.

England have played Georgia twice before - in the 2003 and 2011 World Cups - and will expect to begin the autumn campaign with a hefty win at Twickenham, albeit without fans there to watch.

"We know there are a lot of expectations on us and we’ve applied ourselves hard and put a lot of pressure on ourselves in the early part of this week," Jones said.

"Georgia will be a tough opponent, so we have a team with some real power in midfield. We have a good mix of youth and experience across the squad and they are completely focused on putting in an excellent performance on Saturday."

Georgia will name their team later on Thursday.

England team

15. Elliot Daly (Saracens, 43 caps)14. Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby, 51 caps)13. Ollie Lawrence (Worcester Warriors, 1 cap)12. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 30 caps)11. Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 57 caps)10. Owen Farrell (c) (Saracens, 83 caps)9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 100 caps)1. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 19 caps)2. Jamie George (Saracens, 50 caps)3. Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 4 caps)4. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 16 caps)5. Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 65 caps)6. Maro Itoje (Saracens, 39 caps)7. Jack Willis (Wasps, uncapped)8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 52 caps) Replacements16. Tom Dunn, (Bath Rugby, 1 cap)17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 60 caps)18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 36 caps)19. Ben Earl (Bristol Bears, 4 caps)20. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 24 caps)21. Dan Robson (Wasps, 3 caps)22. Max Malins (Bristol Bears, uncapped)23. Joe Marchant (Harlequins, 3 caps)

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)