Heinz to make England debut in Wales warm-up opener

Bagshot (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Gloucester scrum-half Willi Heinz was handed a chance to force his way into England's World Cup squad after being given a Test debut in the starting side to play Wales at Twickenham on Sunday.

The 32-year-old Heinz, born in Christchurch, New Zealand, has also been selected as vice-captain for this weekend's match against Grand Slam champions Wales, a fixture that takes place just a day before coach Eddie Jones names his 31-man World Cup squad for Japan 2019.

Fly-half George Ford will captain the team in the first of England's four World Cup warm-up matches.

"Willi has earned the opportunity, he's been good with Gloucester and he deserves this chance," England attack coach Scott Wisemantel told reporters at the squad's training base outside in Bagshot, after Jones named his team on Friday.

"We've got a good pool of good half-backs. He's in that pool. We know what the others can do, let's see what Willi can do. Willi's quite aggressive and forceful. That's a different profile for us."

In spite of being born and bred in New Zealand, Heinz qualifies to play for England through his grandmother, Aylieff, who came from Southampton.

Heinz has impressed since joining Gloucester in 2015 and took part in an England training session two years ago without being given a debut by Jones.

"Willi's been brilliant since he came in and has been brilliant for Gloucester up until this point. He's captained them as well," said Ford who will lead the side in place of Owen Farrell who is sitting out the Test.

"He has so much energy and everything you want from a nine, such as the strong execution of the basics."

Ben Youngs, England's first-choice scrum-half, is on the bench.

Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie is also set to win his first cap after impressing in the English Premiership last season.

Meanwhile left wing Anthony Watson will be making his first appearance for England since damaging his achilles at the end of the 2018 Six Nations.

Sam Underhill and Tom Curry start in the same back row despite being specialist opensides with Curry packing down at blindside flanker.

The first of two back-to-back matches against Wales sees prop Dan Cole and locks Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels all selected.

Jones, brought in after England's first-round exit at a a 2015 World Cup on home soil, said dethroning reigning champions New Zealand remained his sole target.

"We have completed our four weeks of pre-season training and now we have moved into four weeks of warm-up games ahead of the Rugby World Cup," Jones said.

"Our focus has now changed to match preparation and fitness and creating a game that will stand up to the rigours of the tournament where we have to win seven games in seven weeks.

"Our team selection and tactics in our next four games are all about developing a team capable of winning in Japan and our overarching target of being ready when we get on the plane on September 8 to win the World Cup."

England team (15-1)

Elliot Daly; Ruaridh McConnochie, Henry Slade, Piers Francis, Anthony Watson; George Ford (capt), Willi Heinz; Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhil, Tom Curry; Charlie Ewels, Joe Launchbury; Dan Cole, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge

Replacements: Jack Singleton, Joe Marler, Harry Williams, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Ben Youngs, Joe Marchant, Joe Cokanasiga