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England will start their first Rugby World Cup warm-up match with two uncapped players in their starting line-up and a further three among the replacements. In stark contrast, Wales will take to the field with 12 of the side that beat their fiercest rivals six months ago and powered to the Six Nations Grand Slam.
Friday morning’s team announcements could not have brought more differing outcomes if they tried, with Eddie Jones going down the experimental route and Warren Gatland going all guns blazing, setting up what could be a one-sided affair at Twickenham.
England do have world class talent sprinkled through their side, with Billy Vunipola at No 8 and two British and Irish Lions Test starters in Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson among the back three. But the plan is very much to experiment with new ideas and combinations, and hope that the outcome is if not a victory then something close enough to build on throughout the month.
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There are new players and new partnerships across the board, most notably Willi Heinz and George Ford at half-back and Piers Francis and Henry Slade in the centre.
But the one of most interest features two very familiar names competing for the same position – or so we thought. One of Jones’ big selection headaches when it comes to the first XV is who to play at openside flanker. Tom Curry and Sam Underhill have both staked their own impressive claims to the No 7 shirt over the last 14 months – Curry enjoying a breakthrough tour in South Africa last year and Underhill enjoying a mighty autumn series against New Zealand and Argentina.
The prospect of facing both would be hell for any forwards coach, so it is no surprise to see England do exactly that this weekend, naming Curry at blindside and Underhill at openside – with the sizeable Vunipola between them.
“It’s something that we want to give a go,” said defence coach John Mitchell, who will relish the havoc that the pair could wreak together at the breakdown. “Two big imposing loose forwards with fantastic work rates, who love carrying the ball, love linking and they obviously have good ground skills.
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