Back row injuries help England establish contingency plan in case disaster strikes at World Cup

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Ruaridh McConnochie is set for his England debut.

England have welcomed a string of injuries to their back row as an opportunity to contingency plan in case disaster strikes at the World Cup.

Eddie Jones has taken the unusual step of naming two hookers on the bench for Saturday’s Test against Wales in Cardiff with Jamie George and Jack Singleton supporting Luke Cowan-Dickie.

Singleton won his first cap against the Six Nations Grand Slam champions last weekend and is poised to claim the second as a back row replacement in the World Cup warm-up Test at the Principality Stadium.

Tom Curry, Mark Wilson and Sam Underhill are unavailable through injury, forcing England to examine otherwise unlikely options for the back of the scrum.

“This is actually great for us – it’s the type of thing that could happen to us at the World Cup. Players have to adapt,” forwards coach Steve Borthwick said.

“We’ve got three very good hookers and Jack is there to operate as a utility forward. It’s great opportunity for him and for us to learn to adapt.”

Eddie Jones

Curry (shoulder), Wilson (ribs) and Underhill (toe) are involved in training and should play some part in the remaining two warm-up games against Ireland and Italy.

Henry Slade, however, might miss all four Tests because of his knee injury and has tentatively been pencilled in to face Italy on September 6 – the same date it is hoped his Exeter colleague Jack Nowell will return from an ankle problem.

Ruaridh McConnochie will make his England debut against Wales a week later than hoped for after overcoming a hip problem.

The Bath wing and sevens specialist was picked in the team to face Warren Gatland’s men at Twickenham last weekend but was among a trio of late withdrawals due to injury.

Attack coach Scott Wisemantel is backing the Rio 2016 silver medallist to thrive despite the cauldron-like atmosphere awaiting in the Welsh capital.

“It’s a great opportunity for him. He deserves his chance and it was unfortunate last week when he had the minor injury blow,” Wisemantel said.

“Cardiff on Saturday will be intense but once he gets going and once the whistle is blown, he’ll just settle into things and will be fine.

“He won’t have any problems. The guy has played on the big stage – the Olympic Games. So it won’t be a problem at all.

“He’ll draw on that experience, but he’ll also be focused on the game. He’ll do the job and do it well.”

Anthony Watson has been left out of the matchday 23 after completing his comeback from a 17-month absence due to an Achilles issues, so Joe Cokanasiga lines up on the opposite wing.

Owen Farrell is set for his first start in the warm-up games.

Owen Farrell is set for his first start in the warm-up games.

England captain Owen Farrell makes his first appearance of the World Cup warm-up schedule but is confined to a place on the bench, meaning George Ford will lead the team once more.

In total there are three changes to the side that routed Wales 33-19 with Maro Itoje restored to the second row in place of Charlie Ewels with Joe Launchbury still present.

The final adjustment comes in the back row where Courtney Lawes packs down at blindside flanker, forcing Lewis Ludlam to switch to seven.

Piers Francis and Jonathan Joseph are reunited as the centre pairing and New Zealand-born Willi Heinz wins his second cap at scrum-half.

“We want to back up Sunday. We feel there are areas of growth that we can show on Saturday,” Ford said.

“Going to Cardiff is brilliant for us. It’s brilliant for us as players to be challenged like that. We’re coming up against strong opponents so we’ll make the most of it.”

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A look at four classic Cardiff clashes as Wales meet old foes England again

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England and Wales meet for a second warm-up fixture ahead of the World Cup in Japan when they clash at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Eddie Jones’ England took the bragging rights at Twickenham last weekend, with their convincing 33-19 victory ending both Wales’ 14-match unbeaten run and their hopes of replacing New Zealand as rugby union’s number one-ranked nation.

Here, PA reviews the last four Cardiff encounters between Wales and England.

Wales 21-13 England, 23 February 2019

England’s Six Nations title and Grand Slam hopes were abruptly ended at the Principality Stadium despite Jones’ side leading at the break.

Tom Curry’s first England try – the visitors’ only one of the fixture – helped guide his side into a 10-3 lead but a determined Wales came roaring back and powered to victory following late tries by lock Cory Hill and wing Josh Adams.

They went on to win the Grand Slam themselves after wins over Scotland and Ireland.

Josh Adams celebrates his game-clinching try against England with Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies.

Josh Adams celebrates his game-clinching try against England with Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies.

Wales 16-21 England, 11 February 2017

Two years earlier, it was England’s turn to come from behind, trailing by five points at the interval before they snatched an unlikely Six Nations victory.

Liam Williams cut through the England ranks to cancel out Ben Youngs’ earlier try and edge the hosts back in front but thanks to Owen Farrell’s impressive goalkicking, England still had a fighting chance and remained within touching distance.

A critical error then gifted the visitors their golden opportunity to break Welsh hearts with less than five minutes remaining, as centre Jonathan Davies’ poor clearance saw Elliot Daly freed in space and he touched down in the corner.

Wales 16-21 England, 6 February 2015

It was the same scoreline in 2015, although this time it was a far less experienced and injury-ridden England that took the Six Nations spoils.

Wales opened up a substantial early lead as Leigh Halfpenny’s second-minute penalty and Rhys Webb’s try only six minutes later left England shell-shocked, but Anthony Watson helped the visitors hit back by hauling Mike Brown’s grubber kick over the line to reduce the margin.

Jonathan Joseph then bulldozed through two defenders in response to Dan Biggar’s drop-goal, and the comeback was completed when George Ford kicked a penalty before booting another from long range with time running out.

Elliot Daly's late try punished Wales.

Elliot Daly’s late try punished Wales.

Wales 30-3 England, 16 March 2013

One of Wales’ greatest triumphs over their neighbours, a winner-takes-all Six Nations contest will live long in the memory as Wales’ biggest margin of victory over England.

Three Halfpenny penalties – to Farrell’s single strike – took Wales into a 9-3 lead at the break before the hosts ran away with things as a pair of second-half tries from wing Alex Cuthbert left England’s Grand Slam dream in tatters.

Biggar’s drop goal and penalty put the icing on the cake for Wales, beating their previous best win against England of 25-0 and landing the title in spectacular fashion.

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Jonathan and James Davies first set of brothers since 2006 to start for Wales against England

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Jonathan Davies has long been a key figure for Wales.

Jonathan and James Davies will become the first set of brothers since 2006 to start for Wales when they feature against England on Saturday.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has named Scarlets openside flanker James alongside back-row colleagues Aaron Wainwright and Ross Moriarty for the World Cup warm-up clash in Cardiff.

Jonathan, meanwhile, partners Hadleigh Parkes in midfield as Wales look to bounce back from a 33-19 loss to England at Twickenham last weekend.

They are the first set of brothers to play alongside each other for Wales since Jamie and Nicky Robinson 13 years ago.

James Davies replaces Justin Tipuric, while two other changes from the England defeat see fly-half Dan Biggar come in for an injured Gareth Anscombe and lock Jake Ball replacing Adam Beard.

Biggar starts with Anscombe having suffered a World Cup-ending knee ligament injury at Twickenham.

James Davies will win just his fourth cap.

James Davies will win just his fourth cap.

And Cardiff Blues forward Josh Navidi is among the replacements, along with his Blues colleague and fly-half Jarrod Evans.

Gatland said: “This weekend is another opportunity for us to take the field, test ourselves and continue our preparation for Japan.

“It is a little over five weeks until we kick off our campaign in Toyota against Georgia, and it is important we are fully prepared and rugby-ready by then.

“We were disappointed to get the loss last weekend, so it is important we step it up on Saturday and put in a big display in front a of a packed Principality Stadium.

“The squad are looking forward to getting back out there, taking another step towards the World Cup and putting in a big performance.”

Wales are unbeaten at the Principality Stadium since world champions New Zealand toppled them in November 2017, since when they have reeled off 10 successive victories.

Anscombe looks unlikely to play next season, with Gatland confirming that he will require surgery.

“He has done the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and the meniscus as well,” Gatland said.

“Unfortunately, he is going to require surgery and it’s probably going to keep him out for most of the season.”

Tipuric and Beard, meanwhile, have been left out as precautions this weekend.

“Justin Tipuric has got a little bit of a knock on his ankle last weekend,” Gatland added. “He’s fine, but we are just resting him as a precaution.

“Adam Beard has got a sore wrist. He is probably alright for Saturday, but we’ve made that change early on.”

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