England coach Eddie Jones insisted he had no qualms about sending out star No 8 Billy Vunipola for a second Rugby World Cup match in a row as he made 10 changes to his side for their match against the United States on Thursday.
Vunipola came in for some heavy-duty treatment at the hands of Tonga, the team his father and uncle both played for, during England’s opening 35-3 Pool C victory over the Pacific islanders in Sapporo on Sunday.
But despite the four-day turnaround, Vunipola is one of five England players who will start for the second time this tournament when England face the USA in Kobe.
George Ford, who captains from fly-half in place of benched centre and regular skipper Owen Farrell, fullback Elliot Daly, flanker Tom Curry and prop Joe Marler are all backing up from the Tonga match.
Vunipola is now set to play his 11th consecutive Test at No 8, having started all of England’s Six Nations matches and every one of their four World Cup warm-up games.
“He loves playing rugby and the best way to keep him fit is to play him, and he is an influential player,” said Jones after announcing his team on Tuesday.
“There is a risk about him going out on Kobe beach tomorrow (Wednesday) and it is much better that he plays rugby than goes out to the beach. He loves to play.”
England’s new-look line-up includes four players making their first start of Japan 2019 — wings Ruaridh McConnochie and Joe Cokanasiga, inside centre Piers Francis and lock Joe Launchbury.
Up front, prop Dan Cole will win his 91st cap, becoming England’s third-most capped player alongside national hero Jonny Wilkinson.
Cole appeared to have fallen out of favour under Jones but the Australian praised the “outstanding scrummager” for getting back into the side.
“Twelve months ago we were probably thinking he would not be going to the World Cup and he has just worked harder on his general play,” said Jones.
Cole packs down with Joe Marler and Luke Cowan-Dickie, who scored England’s bonus-point try against Tonga.