Six Nations: Billy Vunipola and Anthony Watson return for England in Ireland

Gerard Meagher
The Guardian
England and Jones maintain focus as Dublin date with destiny beckons
England and Jones maintain focus as Dublin date with destiny beckons

Billy Vunipola and Anthony Watson will start for England against Ireland on Saturday as Eddie Jones makes two changes, with Elliot Daly successfully coming through the return to play protocols to keep his place after a head injury.

Vunipola, who came off the bench against Scotland for only his second appearance since November after a knee injury, replaces Nathan Hughes, who is among the replacements. Watson, who replaced Daly last week, comes in on the right wing with Jack Nowell moving to the bench. Jonny May and Tommy Taylor drop out of the squad as England travel to Dublin looking to complete a second consecutive grand slam and for a 19th straight win to eclipse the tier-one record they currently share with the All Blacks.

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“Ireland not having anything to play for means they have the courage to fail which frees them up mentally,” said Jones. “We are a little bit vulnerable because we have already been crowned the Six Nations champions and we had a big win against Scotland, so for us it’s getting the right mind-set for the game.”

Vunipola’s return to the starting lineup is a considerable boost for Jones. The 24-year-old received a huge cheer when he came on against Scotland and proceeded to score a try during an impressive cameo. Earlier in the competition, Jones had hinted that Vunipola may return from injury in time for a place on the bench against Ireland but he comes into the back row alongside James Haskell and Maro Itoje.

Watson was similarly sharp after replacing Daly, who stays on the left wing despite being unable to train until Thursday, having been withdraw early on against Scotland following Fraser Brown’s dangerous tackle. It is a first international start for Watson since last June.

England side to face Ireland

M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford, B Youngs; J Marler, D Hartley (capt), D Cole, J Launchbury, C Lawes, M Itoje, J Haskell, B Vunipola.

Replacements: J George, M Vunipola, K Sinckler, T Wood, N Hughes, D Care, B Te’o, J Nowell.

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