Eddie Jones backs 'kamikaze kids' to smash Pumas
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: England coach Eddie Jones has welcomed back battering ram Mako Vunipola and backed his “kamikaze kids” to wreak havoc in this weekend’s World Cup Pool C clash with Argentina.
Flanks Tom Curry and Sam Underhill start for Saturday’s crunch fixture in Tokyo, while prop Vunipola returns to the bench along with wing Jack Nowell, who has also recovered from a long-term injury.
“I think they will be useful in terms of that contest at the breakdown,” Jones said Thursday, referring to Curry and Underhill whom he christened with their nickname because they “hit everything that moves”.
The Australian, who had a full complement of 31 players to select from, admitted that Vunipola and Nowell were yet to reach peak fitness but tipped them to have an impact as England look to secure a quarterfinal spot with one game to play.
“They’re still a way off but they trained really well yesterday and showed they’re fit enough to make really significant contributions.”
Jones made nine changes from the team that thrashed the United States 45-7 with only Joe Marler, George Kruis, Curry, Billy Vunipola, George Ford and Elliot Daly keeping their places.
Scrumhalf Ben Youngs will win his 92nd cap, overtaking 2003 World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson and putting him behind recent captain Dylan Hartley and prop Jason Leonard. Prop Dan Coles can draw level with Youngs if he comes on.
Pumas hooker Agustin Creevy – who earlier this week branded England’s rugby as “boring” and warned the game would be “like a war” – was named among Argentina’s replacements.
“It’s an interesting team,” Jones said of the 2015 semifinalists.
“We know Argentina are at their best at World Cups. They’re a pretty good team if they can get Creevy to come off the bench.”
Jones, whose team have trashed Tonga (35–3) and the United States (45-7), has stuck with the double playmaker strategy of captain Owen Farrell at inside centre and George Ford at flyhalf.
“We’ve had a lot more time to prepare compared to the last game so we can’t wait to play,” said Farrell.
“It will be a tough game but we’re prepared for any conditions thrown at us and to play any sort of rugby to win.”
But Cole predicted Vunipola would give the English an enormous boost as they look to atone for their 2015 flop, when they failed to reach the quarterfinals.
“Mako’s a brilliant player with the ability to have an impact on the game – it’s great to have him back in the fold,” said Cole.
Jones pinpointed the scrum as key to the game – one the Pumas need to win after losing 23-21 to France in their Pool C opener.
“It’s part of Argentinian rugby culture,” said the former Australia and Japan coach.
“You can have dormant periods but particularly when it’s a fabric of your rugby, it’s easy to reignite and I think [Argentina coach Mario Ledesma] has done that well.”
“It’s going to be a massive test on Saturday but they haven’t scrummed against us,” warned Jones.
“We believe our scrum can be a real weapon – so hang on to your seats!”
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Curry, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Jack Nowell.
Date: Saturday, October 5
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 17.00 (05.00 Argentina time; 08.00 GMT; 09.00 England time)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)