Joe Cokanasiga will be given the chance justify Eddie Jones’ belief he is “something special” when he makes his England debut against Japan.
The giant Bath wing is one of 11 changes in personnel for Saturday’s penultimate Quilter International at Twickenham with only full-back Elliot Daly retaining the same jersey he wore against New Zealand.
George Ford leads the team after co-captains Owen Farrell and Dylan Hartley were selected on the bench in a match and its build-up being treated as a dress rehearsal for the four-day turnaround between group games against Tonga and the USA at next year’s World Cup.
It is the presence of Cokanasiga that is generating most excitement, however, as Jones tests whether he can perform the role of juggernaut wing that England have rarely been able to field.
The giant Fijian-born threequarter, who turned 21 today, has used his 6’4” and 18 stones frame to destructive effect at the Recreation Ground and Jones believes he has the attributes to be a force in the international arena.
“Joe’s pretty excited. He’s a quite a shy boy but increasingly, in the time that he’s spent with the team, he’s come out of himself,” Jones said.
“There’s something a little bit special about him so we’re looking forward to seeing him play.
A new-look centre pairing of Jack Nowell and Alex Lozowski start outside Ford and half-back partner Danny Care with Farrell offering midfield cover from the bench against the sport’s number 11 ranked team.
It is Ford’s first start of the autumn after Farrell was chosen as chief conductor for the narrow victory over South Africa and defeat by New Zealand.
“George as the captain and the 10 has the responsibility of organising the team and captaining the team around the field,” Jones said.
“George has been in good form, although he’s had limited game time. And Danny brings a certain sparkle around the ruck.”
Charlie Ewels joins Itoje in the second row and will call the line-outs, Courtney Lawes is drafted in at blindside flanker and Zach Mercer wins his second cap at number eight with Wilson switching to openside.
Jones is preparing to face the team he coached to rugby’s greatest upset when South Africa were stunned in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup.
“Japan are progressing really nicely. The team has regenerated – there are only five or six players left from the team that I coached and they’re the outstanding players like Michael Leitch and Kenki Fukuoka,” Jones said.
“Those guys are still there but they’ve brought some good players in. And I think Japan are benefiting from playing Super Rugby.
“You see those young guys coming into the squad now and they’re much better prepared for top level rugby and they now think they can win.
“Previously Japanese sides were happy to get beaten, they were the Brave Blossoms, but now this new generation of Japanese players believe that they can win and that makes them a much stronger team.”