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England scrum-half Willi Heinz given chance to impress ahead of World Cup

Heinz will also be vice-captain against Wales.

Willi Heinz is set for his England debut on Sunday (John Walton/PA)
Willi Heinz is set for his England debut on Sunday (John Walton/PA)

By Duncan Bech, PA

Willi Heinz will make his England debut against Wales on Sunday as vice-captain despite his lack of Test experience.

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The New Zealand-born 32-year-old has been given the stage to prove he deserves a place at this autumn’s World Cup after being picked as the starting scrum-half for the warm-up Test at Twickenham.

Ben Youngs, England’s first choice in the position, is included on the bench for a game that takes place 24 hours before Eddie Jones finalises his 31-man squad for Japan 2019.

“Willi’s got an opportunity. He’s been good with Gloucester and he deserves this chance,” attack coach Scott Wisemantel said.

“We’ve got a pool of good half-backs and he’s in that pool. We know what the others can do, so let’s see what he can do.

“Willi’s quite aggressive and forceful and that’s a different profile for us, so let’s see how he goes.”

With three further warm-up Tests to come, Owen Farrell misses out altogether so George Ford starts at fly-half and is also named captain of a side that contains 377 caps.

“Willie’s been brilliant since he came in and has been brilliant for Gloucester up until this point. He’s captained them as well,” Ford said.

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Ruaridh McConnochie is also in line for his Red Rose debut (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“More than that have been his actions on the training field. He has so much energy and everything you want from a nine, such as the strong execution of the basics.

“And he speaks well off the field, which is a massive help to someone who is playing outside him.”

Also winning his first cap is Ruaridh McConnochie, the Bath wing who followed up a fine spell in sevens with a strong finish to the 2018-19 Gallagher Premiership season.

Lining up the other wing is Test Lion Anthony Watson, who will be making his first appearance for England since damaging his Achilles at the end of the 2018 Six Nations.

Willi's got an opportunity. He's been good with Gloucester and he deserves this chance Scott Wisemantel

Piers Francis profits from Ben Te’o’s unexpected absence from the training squad by winning his fourth cap in a centre partnership alongside Henry Slade.

For the first time, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry start in the same back row despite being specialist opensides with the latter packing down at six.

The first of back-to-back matches against Wales sees prop Dan Cole and locks Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels presented with their last chance to secure their World Cup places.

PA

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