England v Japan: Joe Cokanasiga to start Twickenham Test

'Desire, pace, power' - Jones on England debutant Cokanasiga
England v Japan
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday 17 November Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live with BBC Two highlights at 19:30 GMT

Bath's 21-year-old winger Joe Cokanasiga will make his England debut against Japan as head coach Eddie Jones makes sweeping changes from the side that lost narrowly to New Zealand.

Cokanasiga is one of 11 personnel changes, with number eight Zach Mercer making his first start.

Worcester's teenage flanker Ted Hill is a shock inclusion on the bench.

Fly-half George Ford captains the side on his 50th cap, with Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell among the replacements.

Scrum-half Danny Care makes his first start since March, while Jones has changed the entire front row with Exeter props Alec Hepburn and Harry Williams either side of Saracens hooker Jamie George.

Jack Nowell, usually deployed as a wing, moves inside to play at outside centre, while Bath second row Charlie Ewels wins his ninth cap in place of the injured George Kruis.

England's autumn internationals
3 NovemberBeat South Africa 12-11
10 NovemberLost to New Zealand 16-15
17 NovemberJapan
24 NovemberAustralia
All matches at Twickenham

Courtney Lawes comes in for Brad Shields in the back row, just as he did off the bench in the defeat by the All Blacks.

"This weekend is a good opportunity for us to test the depth of the squad," Jones said.

England have a four-day turnaround between their first two matches at the World Cup in Japan next year, with their opener against Tonga on 22 September followed by a meeting with the United States on 26 September.

England have deliberately shortened their time together in the run-up to Saturday's Test in an attempt to replicate the challenges of their Japan 2019 schedule.

"We have also tested ourselves in having a shorter preparation. We gave the players two days off after three weeks of intensive work. We have had a short preparation but a good preparation," explained Jones.


BBC rugby union reporter Chris Jones:

Eddie Jones was always likely to tinker with selection for this one, with Japan by far the weakest team that England will face this autumn.

Even though, this is a drastically-changed and highly experimental line-up.

The selection of Joe Cokanasiga on the wing is eye-catching as the Bath man tries to stake his World Cup claim, while 19-year-old Worcester flanker Ted Hill has come from nowhere to make the bench.

Who is Joe Cokanasiga?

Joe Cokanasiga
Cokanasiga was part of an England Under-20 side that clinched a Grand Slam for the first time in six years in 2017

Cokanasiga, who was born in the Fijian capital of Suva but moved to England as a three-year-old, was part of the under-20 side that won a Grand Slam in their age-grade Six Nations in 2017.

He scored four tries in 20 league appearances last season as part of London Irish's unsuccessful fight against Premiership relegation before signing a contract with Bath in the summer.

Should he force his way into Jones' thinking for Japan 2019, it would not be his first World Cup experience.

He was in a troupe of traditional Fijian dancersexternal-link who were part of the pre-match entertainment at Twickenham before England's opener for the 2015 tournament.

At 17st 9lbs and 6ft 4in, Cokanasiga is a powerful runner.

"He has got pace, power, he can find the line and he has great desire to be the best he can be," said Jones.

"He has always had a lot of natural physical talent and now he really wants to make it."

Jones renews acquaintances

Eddie Jones and Takeshi Kizu
Eddie Jones and Takeshi Kizu after the seismic shock of Japan's World Cup win over the Springboks in 2015

The match will be the first time Jones has faced Japan since World Cup 2015, when he masterminded the Brave Blossoms' famous win over South Africa.

The Australian expects his former side, now led by ex-All Black Jamie Joseph, to be similarly enterprising on Saturday.

"We are expecting plenty of energy, aggression and fast ball movement," he said.

"They will be full of surprises, quick taps, line-outs and plays. They are going to have a bag of magic.

"They will be looking to destabilise the game. It will be an exciting tactical game."

Japan scored five tries in a 69-31 defeat by New Zealand earlier this month. On their last match in Europe, they came within a straightforward conversion miss of a famous victory over France, drawing 23-23 in Paris last November.


England: Daly; Cokanasiga, Nowell, Lozowski, Ashton: Ford (c), Care; Hepburn, George, Williams, Ewels, Itoje, Lawes, Wilson, Mercer.

Replacements: Hartley, Moon, Sinckler, Hill, Underhill, Wigglesworth, Farrell, Slade.

Japan: Tupou; Yamada, Lafaele, Nakamura, Fukuoka; Tamura, Tanaka; Inagaki, Sakate, Koo, van der Walt, Helu, Leitch (c), Nishikawa, Himeno.

Replacements: Niwai, Yamamoto, Ai Valu, Anise, Tui, Nunomaki, Nagare, Matsuda.

Can you name England's top post-war try scorers?

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