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Vunipola will keep thriving in heat of battle: Jones

 

Key man: Billy Vunipola is vital to England's World Cup hopes
Key man: Billy Vunipola is vital to England's World Cup hopes

By Duncan Bech

Eddie Jones has defended his ongoing selection of Billy Vunipola despite the England number eight's escalating workload.

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Vunipola is retained in the back row for tomorrow's World Cup clash with the USA at the Kobe Misaki Stadium just four days after Tonga were dispatched 35-3 in the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

As the only player to start all four of the summer's warm-up Tests, the Pool C showdown will extend his run of starts to 11 having completed 761 of England's last 800 minutes.

The powerful 26-year-old is seen as vital to the nation's hopes of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy on November 2, but his 2018 was ruined by fracturing his arms on three separate occasions.

Vunipola has said he wants to be involved as much as possible after spending the majority of last season in the treatment room and Jones insists regular action is key to ensuring he is at his bulldozing best.

"Billy loves playing rugby, he's a rugby player. The best way to keep him fit is to play him. He wants to play," Jones said.

When asked if he was taking a risk, Jones said: "It's a risk Billy going out and eating Kobe beef! It's much better he plays rugby than goes out and eats beef."

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Joe Cokanasiga will provide firepower to England's back line in the absence of Manu Tuilagi after being picked in place of Jonny May, who has been rested.

The rampaging Fijian-born 21-year-old has been struggling with a knee injury but has been passed fit for England's second match in four days.

Cokanasiga's presence makes up for Tuilagi being omitted from the 23 after the Leicester wrecking ball laid waste to Tonga with a devastating two-try salvo and series of marauding runs.

"It's like a dream come true, I'm really excited," said the Bath giant, who will be making World Cup debut.

"I remember going to the final in 2015 when the All Blacks played Australia and thinking 'this is unbelievable - imagine playing in one of these games'. It feels weird to be here and playing on Thursday."

Captain Owen Farrell drops to the bench so George Ford, who leads the team, continues at fly-half inside a new-look centre combination of Piers Francis and Jonathan Joseph.

Ruaridh McConnochie wins his second cap on the right wing with Elliot Daly continuing at full-back and Willi Heinz getting the nod at scrum half.

There are three survivors from the pack that started against Tonga in prop Joe Marler, flanker Tom Curry and Vunipola.

Henry Slade is absent despite making his comeback against Tonga after he picked up a knee injury during last season's Gallagher Premiership final.

Slade came on at full-back at the Sapporo Dome and hurt the same knee that resulted in his summer on the sidelines but was able to finish the match.

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