Eddie Jones has given Chris Ashton his first England start for four years believing his nose for the try-line will be crucial in Saturday’s long-awaited clash with New Zealand.
Ashton lines-up on the right wing in place of the benched Jack Nowell after impressing during his 15-minute spell as a substitute in the 12-11 victory over South Africa that opened the Quilter Internationals.
The 31-year-old has amassed 40 caps in an international career interrupted by a run of lengthy suspensions, falling out of favour with successive England coaches and a season-long spell in Toulon.
But his strike rate of 19 tries makes him a key weapon that Jones insists must be deployed from the start at Twickenham where the rivals collide for the first time in four years.
“It’s more of an order change. Jack played exceptionally well for us last week but when you’re playing against New Zealand the 80 minutes are important,” Jones said.
“Jack has got an incredible work rate so we feel he’ll be enormously valuable for us in the last 20 minutes.
“Chris can sniff a try from anywhere. To beat New Zealand you have got to score tries. He’s in good form and has looked sharp, so we’ve given him the nod to start.”
Manu Tuilagi is overlooked for the bench as England look to restore him to full fitness in time for the final two matches of the autumn against Japan and Australia.
Tuilagi was due to face South Africa as a replacement but was withdrawn on the eve of the match due to a minor groin strain and although he has now recovered, Jones believes the rampaging centre is best served by a cautious approach to his comeback.
Groin and knee surgery have prevented him from starting for England since 2014 and his most recent appearance was against Wales two years ago.
“Manu is just not quite right. He’s nearly there and we feel like he’ll be of enormous value to us in the future,” Jones said.
“Rather than take any risks with him we’re being quite conservative in his management.
“He’s at 99.9999 per cent but he’s just not quite right so we’re going to see if we get him 100 cent right. It would be nice if that’s for Japan. We’ll worry about that next week.”
Two further changes to the team that toppled South Africa sees Ben Moon come in for Alec Hepburn at loosehead prop and Sam Underhill replace Tom Curry, who has been ruled out of the remainder of the autumn by an ankle injury.
Courtney Lawes returns to the bench after overcoming a lower back problem, forcing Zach Mercer out of the matchday 23.
“We looked at a number of possibilities for Curry but we wanted a like for like player and Underhill is a like for like player,” Jones said.
“Sam has had a few injury issues but this is a great opportunity for him. He’s strong at the breakdown good chop tackler and will certainly fill the role that Tom did so well in last week.”