BAGSHOT – England coach Eddie Jones has selected a powerful centre pairing of Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi for Saturday’s Six Nations international against Italy at Twickenham.
It will be the first time the duo, who both have Pacific Islands heritage, have started a Test together.
Henry Slade has been dropped to the bench to allow Te’o’s inclusion at inside centre and Tuilagi’s move to outside centre in one of several changes to the team beaten 21-13 by Wales last time out.
Joe Cokanasiga was recalled on the right wing after Jack Nowell failed to recover from a shoulder injury as Australian coach Jones selected his most physical backline since taking over as England coach after the 2015 World Cup.
Cokanasiga made his Six Nations debut when he came off the bench against Wales.
His 18-stone presence adds to the strength of midfielders Te’o and Tuilagi, who weigh in at a combined 34 stone.
Fly-half Owen Farrell remains as captain, with Ben Youngs again starting at scrum-half.
Jones has made five changes in personnel to the side beaten by Wales, with Joe Launchbury starting at lock after Saracens second row Maro Itoje failed to recover from a knee injury.
There had been hopes Itoje would recover in time to fill the gap left by Courtney Lawes’s calf strain, but his continued absence means Kruis and Launchbury will pack down alongside each other for only the second time.
Elsewhere in the pack, Brad Shiels starts at blindside flanker instead of Mark Wilson, with Ellis Genge displacing Ben Moon at loosehead prop.
Defeat by Wales ended England’s hopes of a Grand Slam this season.
England, however, have never lost a Test against Italy, with the Azzurri having lost their last 20 Six Nations matches.
Conor O’Shea, the Italy coach, is due to name his side later Thursday.
"Italy are a bit of an unknown quantity but when Conor allows them to play rugby they play well," insisted Jones after naming his side on Thursday.
"They have played terrific games in the Six Nations."
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The former Australia and Japan coach added: "They are fitter, physically stay in the contest a lot longer and they are quite unpredictable in the way they attack."
"We expect Italy to throw the ball around a bit so we are going to have to defend very well against their unpredictability and when we have got the ball, we have to use it wisely."
Elliot Daly; Joe Cokanasiga, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Te’o, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (capt), Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Brad Shields; George Kruis, Joe Launchbury; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Ellis Genge
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ben Moon, Dan Cole, Nathan Hughes, Mark Wilson, Dan Robson, George Ford, Henry Slade
Coach: Eddie Jones (AUS)
Agence France-Presse (AFP)