Mercer misses out on All Blacks clash

Bath num­ber eight drops off the bench as fit-again Lawes makes the match­day 23

Western Daily Press - - Sport - DANIEL EVANS & DUN­CAN BECH

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.”

David Rogers/ Getty Im­ages

Bath’s Sam Un­der­hill will start for the Red Rose

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