LONDON (Reuters) - England coach Eddie Jones has reverted to his World Cup back row of Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Billy Vunipola to face Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday, a side he described as the best poaching team in Europe.
The powerful trio are reunited for the second time since the World Cup final for the toughest game England have faced since the restart after easy wins over Italy and Georgia. Maro Itoje moves from number six to join Joe Launchbury in the second row. Jonathan Joseph has recovered from a back problem to start on the wing, while flyhalf George Ford is on the bench after overcoming a foot injury.
Ollie Lawrence, who barely got a touch last week, will hope for more involvement on his second start at outside centre, with Henry Slade inside him as part of the same backline that faced Georgia.
The front row is also back to what would generally be considered Jones’s first choice of Jamie George, Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler.
“Ireland are the number one poaching team in Europe, we need an aggressive, low-to-the ground back row, and Sam Underhill and Tom Curry are outstanding in that area,” Jones said on Thursday of the two flankers who were among England’s stand-out players at the World Cup but have been moved, mixed and matched mostly since then.
Curry has bitter-sweet memories of his first encounter with Ireland, as England won 32-20 in Dublin in the 2019 Six Nations but he was yellow carded for a late tackle.
“That was a big learning curve as far as these intense games go,” he told reporters, adding that he and his back row colleagues had improved considerably since then and the World Cup.
“We’ve developed a lot since a year ago, in training, playing off each other, so it’s going well,” he said. “Sam’s brilliant defensively and you can always rely on him, while being able to play off Billy in attack is great, he opens spaces around him.
“Getting the balance right is massive in the back row and supporting each other and hopefully we can achieve that.”
England have won their last three games against the Irish, including an impressive 24-12 Six Nations victory in February and a 57-15 World Cup warm-up thrashing in August 2019.
Ireland have an experimental look this week, especially in their fledgling all-Leinster halfback combination of Ross Byrne and Jamison Gibson-Park, but Jones expects a stiff examination.
“They’ll come to Twickenham with a point to prove, which always makes them dangerous,” said the England coach. “It’s a huge step up from what we’ve been encountering in the last couple of games. Our intensity is always pretty good, but definitely there’s a bit more edge around the place.
“All the guys know Ireland are a very, very tough team. Eighteen months ago they were ranked number one in the world so it shows you the class and ability of this team. We know we’ve got to be at our best to get the result we want.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris
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