England start Watson in only change for France clash

Rugby

Anthony Watson will replace injured Bath teammate Jonathan Joseph on the wing for England’s clash against France in the Autumn Nations Cup final on Sunday in the only change from the team who beat Wales last time out.

Watson, who overcame his own injury to start on the bench against Wales, came on for Joseph when he suffered a calf injury early in the second half of England’s 24-13 win in Llanelli.

Centre Joe Marchant is also back from injury and gets a place among the replacements along with Max Malins, as Ollie Lawrence misses out. Ben Earl is preferred to Jack Willis as the back-up flanker but there is no place for Joe Marler, as Ellis Genge and Will Stuart provide the front row cover.

England qualified for the final by topping Group A with wins over Georgia, Ireland and Wales, while France won Group B after beating Italy and Scotland and being handed a walkover against COVID-hit Fiji.

Saturday’s team is England’s most-experienced ever (as was last week’s), boasting 813 caps. The least experienced players are flankers Sam Underhill (21 caps) and Tom Curry (27).

In contrast France, who beat England in their opening game of the Six Nations in February, will be a mostly youthful squad due to the agreement between clubs and the national union that no player could be involved in more than three of their autumn matches.

Sunday’s game will be England’s first in front of fans since March, with 2,000 allowed into Twickenham. Around 400 tickets have been donated to local NHS workers, with 50 of them seated in the Royal Box.

“We’re really looking forward to this final, playing France and having another chance to win a trophy this autumn,” head coach Eddie Jones said, who led England to their third Six Nations title in five years five weeks ago.

“Over the past two months the players have put in real effort, worked very hard on and off the pitch and have met the protocols and new ways of working.

“This has been another positive learning week with tough, hard training and we’re looking forward to getting on the pitch in front of our fans and playing a good game of rugby.”

England starting XV to face France:

Daly, Watson, Slade, Farrell (captain), May; Ford, Youngs, M Vunipola, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Launchbury, Curry, Underhill, B Vunipola.

Replacements:

Cowan-Dickie, Genge, Stuart, Hill, Earl, Robson, Malins, Marchant.

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