Jones sticks with Vunipola as England change 10 for USA at Rugby World Cup

Kobe (Japan) (AFP) –


England coach Eddie Jones insisted he had no qualms about sending out star No 8 Billy Vunipola for a second Rugby World Cup match in a row as he made 10 changes to his side for their match against the United States on Thursday.

Vunipola came in for some heavy-duty treatment at the hands of Tonga, the team his father and uncle both played for, during England's opening 35-3 Pool C victory over the Pacific islanders in Sapporo on Sunday.

But despite the four-day turnaround, Vunipola is one of five England players who will start for the second time this tournament when England face the USA in Kobe.

George Ford, who captains from fly-half in place of benched centre and regular skipper Owen Farrell, fullback Elliot Daly, flanker Tom Curry and prop Joe Marler are all backing up from the Tonga match.

Vunipola is now set to play his 11th consecutive Test at No 8, having started all of England's Six Nations matches and every one of their four World Cup warm-up games.

"He loves playing rugby and the best way to keep him fit is to play him, and he is an influential player," said Jones after announcing his team on Tuesday.

"There is a risk about him going out on Kobe beach tomorrow (Wednesday) and it is much better that he plays rugby than goes out to the beach. He loves to play."

England's new-look line-up includes four players making their first start of Japan 2019 -- wings Ruaridh McConnochie and Joe Cokanasiga, inside centre Piers Francis and lock Joe Launchbury.

- 'Outstanding scrummager' -

Up front, prop Dan Cole will win his 91st cap, becoming England's third-most capped player alongside national hero Jonny Wilkinson.

Cole appeared to have fallen out of favour under Jones but the Australian praised the "outstanding scrummager" for getting back into the side.

"Twelve months ago we were probably thinking he would not be going to the World Cup and he has just worked harder on his general play," said Jones.

Cole packs down with Joe Marler and Luke Cowan-Dickie, who scored England's bonus-point try against Tonga.

Willi Heinz gets a run out at scrum-half but Ben Youngs, a team-mate of Cole at Leicester, will also equal Wilkinson's England mark if he comes off the bench.

The last time England made 10 changes was in 2003, a tournament they went on to win after beating an Australia side coached by Jones, with Wilkinson's drop goal in the dying seconds of extra time sealing victory in a Sydney final.

Even a much-changed England should have too much class for the Eagles and, with little time to recover from their bruising encounter against Tonga, probably have half-an-eye on sterner tests to come.

"The four-day turnaround is something we experimented with against Japan last autumn and so the players have had some experience of it," said Jones.

"What I see now is players handling it really well but the game on Thursday will be the litmus test."

After the USA match in Kobe, England play Argentina and France in a Pool C that has been dubbed this tournament's 'group of death'.

Nevertheless, Jones has warned his men not to take a USA side featuring several England-based players lightly, bizarrely saying it would be like facing "15 Donald Trumps".

USA coach Gary Gold retorted: "I've absolutely no idea what he means by that."

England (15-1)

Elliot Daly; Ruaridh McConnochie, Jonathan Joseph, Piers Francis, Joe Cokanasiga; George Ford (capt), Willi Heinz; Billy Vunipola, Lewis Ludlam, Tom Curry; George Kruis, Joe Launchbury; Dan Cole, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler

Replacements: Jack Singleton, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Mark Wilson, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Anthony Watson