(Reuters) – England coach Eddie Jones has handed Joe Marchant a starting berth against Italy in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up match on Friday despite the centre being overlooked for the 31-man squad for Japan.
Harlequins’ Marchant has been training with the squad for the last three weeks and gets the nod with Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph both ruled out with injuries.
Two further players not selected for the World Cup are present on the bench in lock Charlie Ewels and flanker Matt Kvesic.
Ruaridh McConnochie, the only uncapped player in England’s World Cup squad, has again been named to start after pulling out of two warm-up fixtures due to injury last month.
Bath’s McConnochie will form a back three with Anthony Watson, who plays at fullback for the first time since March 2018, and Leicester wing Jonny May.
Captain Owen Farrell wears the number 10 jersey while George Ford take a place on the bench.
Marchant will join Piers Francis in the midfield in what is described by Jones as a “mix and match strategy” for the match at St James’ Park in Newcastle.
Billy Vunipola has been included in the back row for the fourth consecutive match despite concerns about his workload heading into the World Cup.
“We are delighted to be playing against Italy, one of our traditional Six Nations rivals and the game for us is another important step to develop our game fitness and game strategy,” Jones said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We have gone with a mix and match selection policy to develop our adaptability and the team’s ability to cope with any situation.
“We have had a solid training week in Treviso with hot conditions so we are looking forward to testing ourselves against Italy on Friday night.
“Then we hop on the plane and are ready to go to Japan.”
Jones’ side will fly out to Japan on Sunday before their tournament opener against Tonga on Sept. 22.
England: 15-Anthony Watson, 14-Ruaridh McConnochie, 13-Joe Marchant, 12-Piers Francis, 11-Jonny May, 10-Owen Farrell, 9-Ben Youngs, 8-Billy Vunipola, 7-Mark Wilson, 6-Tom Curry, 5-Courtney Lawes, 4-Joe Launchbury, 3-Dan Cole, 2-Jamie George, 1-Joe Marler
Replacements: 16-Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17-Ellis Genge, 18-Kyle Sinckler, 19-Charlie Ewels, 20-Matt Kvesic, 21-Willi Heinz, 22-George Ford, 23-Joe Cokanasiga.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Amlan Chakraborty)