Rugby World Cup 2019: England coach Eddie Jones will use Japan game to get squad pointers

Ted Hill, Joe Cokanasiga, Zach Mercer
Ted Hill, Joe Cokanasiga, Zach Mercer (left to right) will all be attempting to impress Eddie Jones
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

England coach Eddie Jones says there are "about 35 players" in contention to make his 31-man Rugby World Cup squad.

Jones has named an experimental side to face Japan this weekend, with 21-year-old wing Joe Cokanasiga and 19-year-old forward Ted Hill both in line for debuts.

"Selection is going to be difficult, and that's what we want," said Jones.

"We haven't got a big pool of players [in mind] - we have about 35 we think are in contention."

He added: "Thirty five doesn't get divided by 31. So there is good competition."

Worcester flanker Hill has come from nowhere to make the bench this weekend, with Jones likening him to "a New Zealand number six".

Hill has made a significant impression with England's players and coaches after joining the squad for the first time in Portugal last month.

"He has impressed everyone with his demeanour. He has a very good physique, he's a big, rangy guy, and tough," Jones said.

"The ability to change from a club player to an international player is crucial, and he has made that transition quite easily, so that does give him a head-start."

Jack Nowell, starting at outside centre against Japan, is another selection with the World Cup in mind, according to Jones.

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

"We have wanted to do that for a long time, but we have never had the opportunity," he added.

"He is back in good form and his feet are sparkling.

"It's just an option, he's a very good winger, but having the ability to play 13 would help us considerably at the World Cup."

Jones' estimate means he is significantly closer to his 31-man squad than predecessor Stuart Lancaster was at the same stage before the 2015 World Cup.

Lancaster named an initial 50-man training group in May 2015, gradually whittling his selection down to the required number by the end of August.

His most controversial call as he cut a final eight players from his squad was to leave out Luther Burrell to make space for rugby league convert Sam Burgess. Danny Cipraini was another of those to miss out.

Familiar foe

Suntory Sungoliath
Suntory are one of the traditional powerhouses of Japanese domestic rugby

England assistant coach Neal Hatley was part of a fact-finding mission, spending time with Tokyo club Suntory Sungoliath recently, and he believes Japan will test the hosts in new ways.

"We are expecting them to be fast and physical," he told BBC 5 Live.

"The trip was very enlightening.

"I was impressed. The standard of the Japanese players was exceptional, and their attitude to work was first-class."

Jones coached Japan for three years, standing down in the wake of the 2015 World Cup, at which the Brave Blossoms beat Samoa, the United States and, famously, South Africa.

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'Desire, pace, power' - Jones on England debutant Cokanasiga

Jones is half-Japanese and has a Japanese wife, but says he will not be distracted from the task in hand. Earlier in the week he suggested that Japan should "pray, pray, pray" in preparation for meeting an "absolutely ruthless" England.

"The emotional connection doesn't disappear but I've never, by nationality, called myself Japanese because I was brought up as an Australian," said Jones.

"Japan was part of our family, and obviously marrying a Japanese, having a dog that only speaks Japanese, it's a big part of the family.

"But this is a serious Test match and you don't allow those things to cloud your thoughts."

'If it happens, great, if not, I won't lose sleep'

Maro Itoje
Maro Itoje lifts the World Junior Championship in 2014 after England under-20s win over their South African counterparts

Maro Itoje captained England under-20s to victory in the 2014 Junior World Championship final and the 24-year-old has been named vice-captain for the first time for Saturday, supporting skipper George Ford.

"Not really to be honest!" he said, when asked if it was a surprise.

"Hopefully that doesn't sound arrogant or anything. I have been part of the leadership group of this squad for a little while now. Once I got an idea of that the team was going to look like, this may have been a possibility.

"My goal is about being part of extremely successful sides. My role within that, I don't mind. If the England captaincy happens one day great, if it doesn't it is not something I will lose sleep over."

Line-ups

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.

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