Vunipola, Watson start as England chase Six Nations Grand Slam

Julian GUYER
Billy Vunipola, pictured in 2016, will not play for the British and Irish Lions due to a shoulder injury

Billy Vunipola and Anthony Watson have been recalled into England's starting side for their bid to complete back-to-back Grand Slams when they face Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

Powerhouse No 8 Vunipola starts in place of Nathan Hughes, with Watson coming in for Jack Nowell on the right wing in a straight swap between starting XV and bench after England thrashed Scotland 61-21 at Twickenham last weekend to retain the Six Nations title.

Elliot Daly kept his place on the left wing in the team named by coach Eddie Jones on Thursday, having passed the required medical checks after he was forced off early against Scotland with suspected concussion.

Victory at Lansdowne Road on Saturday would see England set a new record of 19 successive Test victories by a 'tier one' or leading rugby union nation.

Both Watson and Vunipola scored a try apiece after coming on in their first appearances of the Championship as England ran in seven in all against the overwhelmed Scots to equal world champions New Zealand's record of 18 wins in a row in style.

Bath flyer Watson crowned a superbly slick team move worth with a brilliantly angled run while Saracens back-rower Vunipola forced his way over from close range in the third quarter.

The duo's inclusion in the starting XV means Australian coach Jones, yet to lose a match as England boss, has selected arguably his strongest available team, with only forwards Chris Robshaw and George Kruis, both out because of long-term injuries, absent.

"We've had a really good week's preparation. The intensity of training has been good," Jones said in a Rugby Football Union statement.

"It's going to be quite an occasion in Dublin so we understand we have to be prepared emotionally, physically and mentally.

"The mood in camp has been positive. We're very excited ahead of what is a huge opportunity for the players. You sense the intensity has stepped up -- it definitely has in training."

- 'Vulnerable England' -

This week reports have emerged of an attempt by England -- who haven't faced New Zealand in their winning run -- to squeeze in a fixture against the All Blacks at Twickenham in November.

But Jones said his side's focus was solely on trying to overcome an Ireland team whose title hopes were effectively ended with a 22-9 defeat by Wales in Cardiff last Friday.

"The message to the players has been quite simple - we're playing Ireland on Saturday and that is the only thing that counts," former Australia and Japan coach Jones said.

"Ireland not having anything to play for means they have the courage to fail which frees them up mentally.

"We are a little bit vulnerable because we have already been crowned champions and we had a big win against Scotland, so for us it's about getting the right mind-set for the game."

Northampton back-row Tom Wood will win his 50th cap if he comes off the bench in Dublin.

"I congratulate Tom Wood on his personal milestone," Jones said. "He's a committed team man, who has fought his way back into this set-up and has been a great contributor to the team on and off the field."

Ireland were due to name their team later Thursday.

England team to play Ireland in a Six Nations international at Dublin's Lansdowne Road on Saturday (1700 GMT kick-off):

England (15-1)

Mike Brown; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, James Haskell, Maro Itoje; Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury; Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (capt), Joe Marler

Replacements: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tom Wood, Nathan Hughes, Danny Care, Ben Te'o, Jack Nowell