Cokanasiga to make England debut against Japan
The giant Fijian-born wing has been in destructive form for Bath this season.
Joe Cokanasiga has been given his England debut as one of 11 changes in personnel made for Saturday’s Test against Japan at Twickenham.
The giant Fijian-born wing, who turned 21 today, has been in destructive form for Bath this season and is rewarded with his first cap in a team that is captained by George Ford.
Only full-back Elliot Daly starts the penultimate Quilter International in the same jersey with wing Chris Ashton, lock Maro Itoje and flanker Mark Wilson surviving but switching positions.
A new-look centre pairing of Jack Nowell and Alex Lozowski start outside Ford and his half-back partner Danny Care.
Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell, co-captains for the first two games of the autumn against South Africa and New Zealand, are present on the bench.
Hartley is replaced by British and Irish Lion Jamie George at hooker as part of an all-new front row also featuring Exeter duo Alec Hepburn and Harry Williams.
Charlie Ewels joins Itoje in the second row, Courtney Lawes is drafted in at blindside flanker and Zach Mercer wins his second cap at number eight with Wilson switching to openside.
Jones has made the changes with the four-day turnaround between group games against Tonga and the United States at next year’s World Cup in mind.
“This weekend is a good opportunity for us to test the depth of the squad,” Jones said.
“A number of players have changed their roles going from finishers to starters and starters to finishers so that is the essential change to the squad.
“It is exciting to be able to give starting opportunities to Zach Mercer and Joe Cokanasiga and young Ted Hill on the bench.”
It is only the second Test between England and and Japan after their meeting at the 1987 World Cup, which was won 60-7 by the Red Rose.
“Japan is an important game for us as we want to get back to winning ways. We have also tested ourselves in having a shorter preparation,” Jones said.
“We gave the players two days off after three weeks of intensive work. We have had a short preparation but a good preparation.
“We are expecting plenty of energy, aggression and fast ball movement from Japan.
“They will be full of surprises, quick taps, line-outs and plays. They are going to have a bag of magic.”
Jones, asked about Cokanasiga’s debut chance on the wing, told Sky Sports: “He’s pretty excited. He’s quite a shy boy but there’s something a little bit special about him. He’s got power and he’s got pace.”
Referring to the new half-back pairing of Care and Ford, Jones said: “George as captain at 10 is responsible for organising the team around the field and Danny brings a certain sparkle around the ruck.”
There will be chances to shine in the England pack too and Jones added: “It’s a great opportunity for Charlie Ewels. He gets the chance to run the lineout against a very good team. Michael Leitch is a very good lineout forward so he will test us.”
Former Japan coach Jones also mapped out what he is expecting from Saturday’s opponents. He said: “They’re a good side, a big kicking team. Our back field is going to get plenty of work. It’s going to be a high transition game instead of a setpiece game which brings its own challenges.”