Owen Farrell and George Ford will start together for England for the first time since last June on Saturday with Eddie Jones naming the strongest starting XV of the World Cup warm-up campaign so far to face Ireland. Farrell makes his first start since the Six Nations, coming in at inside-centre, and assumes the captaincy from Ford, who remains at fly-half.

Ford and Farrell is a tried and tested partnership at 10-12 for Jones, who paired the two together for all but one game of the 18-match winning run to start his tenure. He largely continued with it thereafter but after England were defeated the first two matches of last summer’s tour of South Africa – extended their losing run to five Tests – Jones turned to Danny Cipriani for one match only before installing Farrell as his number one fly-half.

Jones’s decision to return to the partnership during this warm-up series is no surprise however, and while it may prove to be England’s plan B at the World Cup, the rest of the side has a first-choice look about it. Jones has picked Tom Curry and Sam Underhill as his flankers with both recovering from shoulder and toe injuries respectively while Jonny May makes his first appearance of the series on the left wing. Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs, Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler all start as does Billy Vunipola, for the third match running, while Mako Vunipola has been deemed fit enough for a place on the bench.

Maro Itoje and George Kruis are paired together in the second row with Jame George also making his first start of the series at hooker. Elliot Daly meanwhile, continues at fullback with Joe Cokanasiga keeping his place on the wing. On the bench Mark Wilson has recovered from his rib injury and is set for his first appearance of this series.

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The partnership of Curry and Underhill was also expected provided both proved their fitness – Jones had wanted to play the two together in the first warm-up match against Wales but the latter was struck down by injury beforehand. Their selection, along with Ford and Farrell, also suggests England will look to unleash a more expansive game plan against what is similarly strong Ireland lineup, albeit with Johnny Sexton still absent.

“The players have come back in a very good physical and mental state and we have had a good preparation this week,” said Jones. “We purposefully made the week short looking ahead to the World Cup where this might happen beyond our control.

“It is the third of four games for us and come 8 September, when we get on the plane, we want to be ready to go. This is another step forward for us. This weekend we will be looking to gain more game fitness and testing different sorts of game strategies. We have a specific way of how we want to play and the focus is very much on ourselves.”

source: theguardian.com

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