England giants Vunipola and Cokanasiga set to start against Australia
England go for incredible bulk in bid to overpower Australia with head coach Eddie Jones set to unleash heavyweight No 8 Billy Vunipola and giant wing Joe Cokanasiga in first Test
- Wallabies will pose a route-one threat by unleashing Samu Kerevi in midfield
- England plan to fight fire with fire with the powerful presence of Billy Vunipola
- Joe Cokanasiga will start on the wing in first Test against Australia on Saturday
England are set to address their power deficit by unleashing two Polynesian giants against Australia on Saturday – with Billy Vunipola and Joe Cokanasiga both destined to start.
In the absence of Manu Tuilagi due to yet another injury interruption, Eddie Jones is taking steps to add clout to his side for the series opener here at Optus Stadium. Knowing that the Wallabies will pose a route-one threat by unleashing Samu Kerevi in midfield, the visitors plan to fight fire with fire in terms of ball-carrying presence.
Sportsmail understands that Cokanasiga will start on the wing in the first Test, to earn his first cap since playing against the USA and Canada last summer.
England plan to fight fire with fire with the ball-carrying presence of Billy Vunipola
Height: 6ft 3in
Weight: 17st 8lb
Height: 6ft 2in
Weight: 20st 7lb
Australia centre Samu Kerevi weighs 16st 9lb — England’s next heaviest back after Cokanasiga is Freddie Steward at 15st 13lb.
FIXTURES (all 10.55am UK time)
1st Test: Saturday, Perth
2nd Test: Saturday July 9, Brisbane
3rd Test: Saturday July 16, Sydney
The giant Bath wing has had to contend with more than his fair share of setbacks and the latest – chronic damage to his knee – kept him out of action for several months.
But he hit the ground running with a try spree on his return to the struggling Bath side and scored for England in the pre-tour defeat against the Barbarians.
Fiji-born Cokanasiga is destined to start on one wing with Jack Nowell on the other. Jones will deploy a back line with Harry Randall at scrum-half and Marcus Smith resuming a 10-12 alliance with Owen Farrell which was short-lived last autumn due to the latter’s ankle injury. Joe Marchant is expected to be at outside centre, with Freddie Steward at full-back.
Up front, Ellis Genge, Jamie George and Will Stuart are set to start in the front row while Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry are shoo-ins for the first-choice XV. Jones could consider Lawes at lock or blindside flanker, depending on whether the greater emphasis is on lineout or breakdown. And Billy Vunipola is likely to wear No 8 again, having been in Test exile since the end of last year’s Six Nations.
His fellow Saracen, Jamie George, revealed how the younger Vunipola brother reacted to being out of favour for so long. ‘Billy was hurting,’ he said. ‘I don’t think he will mind me saying that. He loves playing for England. He loves playing at the top level. He is probably the most competitive person I have ever come across. He wants to compete against the best and show that he can be the best. What better opportunity than against Australia on their home turf?’
Joe Cokanasiga will start on the wing for England against Australia on Saturday
‘He has always been driven. I know it hurt him not being involved in this. I’ve spoken to him at length about it. He was upset. This is where he wants to be. I’m hugely excited to see him back in the Test arena because this is where he deserves to be. I know he will be chomping at the bit if he gets his opportunity on Saturday.’
Asked if big Billy has improved any particular aspect of his game to earn a recall, George added: ‘He has been “on it” the whole time. The influence he has on a team is massive; both sides of the ball. Everyone talks about his carrying but jeez his defence is good as well. His defence is so, so physical.’
England’s forwards coach, Matt Proudfoot, also endorsed Vunipola’s comeback credentials, saying: ‘I thought he played really well in the (Premiership) final. For 60, 65 minutes he was a force until he got a head knock. It was good to see him carrying again – involving himself.
‘We’re looking for more from him in that respect. He trained well today. My impression of him is how crucial a player he is. A player with that impact is massive for a team.’
Proudfoot has noted the returning No 8’s renewed focus, adding: ‘He is determined. I think if you miss out on the team, when you come back, you can see the difference in players’ eyes. They don’t want to be on the outside, they want to be on the inside.’
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