Mercer misses out on All Blacks clash
Bath number eight drops off the bench as fit-again Lawes makes the matchday 23
ZACH Mercer has been dropped by England head coach Eddie Jones despite a fine cameo off the bench against South Africa.
The Bath back-rower, pictured, impressed as he made his debut at Twickenham a week ago and had hoped to play against the world champion All Blacks tomorrow, especially with Tom Curry injured.
However, the 21-year-old has not made the matchday 23 as England go for two locks on the bench in the form of Mercer’s Bath clubmate Charlie Ewels and fit-again Courtney Lawes, who can also play flanker.
It would have been a special occasion for Mercer, who is part Maori and whose dad Gary played rugby league for New Zealand. Bath’s Sam Underhill has been recalled, however, and will start at openside.
Jones, meanwhile, has given Chris Ashton his first England start for four years, believing his nose for the tryline will be crucial in the longawaited clash with New Zealand.
Ashton lines-up on the right wing in place of the benched Jack Nowell after impressing during his 15minute spell as a substitute in the 12-11 victory over South Africa that opened the Quilter Internationals.
The 31-year-old 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 season-long spell in Toulon.
But his strike rate of 19 tries makes him a key weapon that Jones insists must be deployed from the start at Twickenham where the rivals collide for the first time in four years.
“It’s more of an order change. Jack played exceptionally well for us last
week, but when you’re playing against New Zealand the 80 minutes are important,” Jones said.
“Jack has got an incredible work rate, so we feel he’ll be enormously valuable for us in the last 20 minutes.
“Chris can sniff a try from anywhere. To beat New Zealand you have got to score tries. He’s in good form and has looked sharp, so we’ve given him the nod to start.”
Manu Tuilagi is overlooked for the bench as England look to restore him to full fitness in time for the final two matches of the autumn against Japan and Australia.
Tuilagi was due to face South Africa as a replacement, but was withdrawn on the eve of the match due to a minor groin strain and, although he has now recovered, Jones believes the rampaging centre is best served by a cautious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 quite conservative in his management.
“He’s at 99.9999 per cent, but 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.”
Another change sees Ben Moon come in for Alec Hepburn at loosehead prop, while Underhill is in for injury-hit Curry.
“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, a good chop tackler and will certainly fill the role that Tom did so well last week.”
Jones, meanwhile, will pay little attention when the New Zealanders perform the Haka – joking that he would not notice if the Spice Girls were singing instead.
“At that stage of the game, they could be playing the Spice Girls and I wouldn’t know what’s being played,” Jones said. “They’re making a comeback aren’t they, the Spice Girls? Maybe they could sing at that time. It’s got no relevance to me at all.”
Bath’s Sam Underhill will start for the Red Rose