Ashton is given first start for four years
Sale Sharks wing dislodges Nowell from England team as Moon is promoted from bench
Head coach Eddie Jones has given Chris Ashton his first England start for four years, believing his nose for the tryline will be crucial in tomorrow’s long-awaited Test against New Zealand.
Ashton will line up on the right wing at Twickenham in place of Exeter Chiefs’ Jack Nowell, who drops down to the replacements’ bench, after impressing during his 15-minute spell in the 12-11 victory over South Africa that opened the autumn international series last weekend.
The 31-year-old Sale Sharks wing has amassed 40 caps in an international career interrupted by a run of lengthy suspensions, falling out of favour with successive England coaches and a seasonlong spell in Toulon.
However, his strike rate of 19 tries makes him a key weapon that Jones insists must be deployed from the start this weekend at Twickenham, where the old rivals collide for the first time in four years.
“It’s more of an order change. Jack [Nowell] played exceptionally well for us last week, but when you’re playing against New Zealand the 80 minutes are important,” Jones said yesterday.
“Jack has got an incredible work-rate, so we feel he’ll be enormously valuable for us in the last 20 minutes.
“Chris [Ashton] can sniff a try from anywhere,” the Australian added. “To beat New Zealand, you’ve got to score tries. He’s in good form and has looked sharp, so we’ve given him the nod to start.”
There are two further changes to the team that toppled South Africa. Nowell’s Exeter club-mate Ben Moon comes in for his first start for England, after making his Test debut as a replacement last Saturday.
Moon takes over from another Chiefs player Alec Hepburn, who started last weekend, at loosehead prop. Bath flanker Sam Underhill replaces Tom Curry, who has been ruled out of the remainder of the autumn series by an ankle injury.
Exeter’s Henry Slade retains his place in the starting XV, while his Sandy Park clubmate Harry Williams will be on the bench alongside Nowell and Hepburn.
Leicester Tigers’ Manu Tuilagi is overlooked for the bench as England strive to restore him to full fitness in time for the final two matches of the autumn series, against Japan and Australia. He was due to face South Africa as a replacement but was withdrawn on the eve of the match due to a minor groin strain and, although he has now recovered, Jones believes the rampaging centre is best served by a cautious approach to his comeback.
Groin and knee surgery have prevented him from starting for England since 2014 and his most recent appearance was against Wales two years ago.
“Manu is just not quite right. He’s nearly there and we feel like he’ll be of enormous value to us in the future,” Jones said. “Rather than take any risks with him, we’re being conservative in his management.
“He’s just not quite right, so we’re going to see if we get him 100 cent right. It would be nice if that’s for Japan. We’ll worry about that next week.”
Courtney Lawes returns to the bench after overcoming a back problem, forcing Zach Mercer out of the match-day 23. “We looked at a number of possibilities for Curry, but we wanted a like-for-like player and Underhill is a like-for-like player,” Jones said.
“Sam has had a few injury issues but this is a great opportunity for him. He’s strong at the breakdown and will certainly fill the role that Tom did so well in last week.”