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Gut feeling behind opting for Chris Ashton, says Eddie Jones

Shock call: Chris Ashton will make his first Six Nations start since 2013
Shock call: Chris Ashton will make his first Six Nations start since 2013

By Duncan Bech

England have sprung a surprise by naming Chris Ashton in place of Jack Nowell for tomorrow's Guinness Six Nations clash with France at Twickenham.

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Nowell impressed through his work rate and carrying in the 32-20 victory over Ireland but has lost his spot on the right wing to Ashton, who makes his first Championship start since 2013.

Ashton is well known to France's players after spending a season at Toulon in which he set a new Top 14 try scoring record of 24 touch downs in 23 appearances before joining Sale last summer.

Head coach Eddie Jones said: "We have gone for Chris Ashton on the wing because we think he might sneak us a try early in the game.

"We've just got a gut feeling he'll be right for the start and Jack will be right for the end.

"Jack was absolutely outstanding for us against Ireland, absolutely outstanding, so it's just a different role for him this time.

"He's got a great work rate and can fill a number of positions. At the end of the game that work rate is going to be important."

The second change to the starting XV sees Courtney Lawes partner George Kruis at lock after Maro Itoje was struck down by a knee injury in Dublin. Filling the vacancy on the bench created by Lawes' promotion is Joe Launchbury.

Itoje was expected to be missing until the final rounds but he could now be back sooner than expected from his grade two medial ligament tear, although Jones declined to reveal whether that would be in time for the February 23 clash with Wales.

"It's unfortunate Maro is injured but he has been rehabbing well so we are hopeful he will be back earlier than maybe first predicted," Jones said.

When asked if he could return in time to face Warren Gatland's men, Jones replied: "I'm always optimistic. He was almost available for selection this week but he's not. We've got great depth in the squad so Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes will fill Maro's shoes very well."

Apart from the presence of Nowell and Launchbury, there are two more changes to the bench in the form of props Dan Cole and Ben Moon, who have displaced Harry Williams and Ellis Genge.

Neither flanker Brad Shields nor winger Joe Cokanasiga have made the matchday 23 despite recovering from respective side and knee injuries.

England made a stunning start to their title quest by dismantling Ireland, but Jones views France as unpredictable as illustrated by their loss to Wales in which a 16-0 half-time lead was surrendered.

"They are a team full of talent. They rely a lot on individual talents, but they've got guys that can break the game open," Jones said. "We just have to be very well organised and absolutely brutal in our defence. All we worry about is ourselves.

"We've had a good look at France and what they can bring, but we just have to be organised in defence and have that relentless attitude to get after them.

"After Dublin we have had to refocus and reset. Players have been very good and certainly by Sunday we'll be at our best."

Belfast Telegraph


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