Chris Ashton makes surprise return to England XV

Annette Crawford
February 10, 2019

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

"We think he might sneak us a try early in the game", coach Eddie Jones said of Ashton.

That Jones decided to make changes to his side was no surprise given that Maro Itoje was ruled out with the knee injury that he suffered last week. Filling the vacancy on the bench created by Lawes' promotion is Joe Launchbury.

"It is unfortunate Maro is injured but he has been rehabbing well so we are hopeful he will be back earlier than maybe first predicted", said Jones. Itoje's spot is taken by Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury will provide cover from the bench.

Front rows Dan Cole and Ben Moon, as well as second row Joe Launchbury, are included on the bench for the first time in this Six Nations.

Ashton's last Six Nations outing was one of the low points in English rugby history - a crushing 30-3 defeat by Wales in Cardiff that destroyed the team's Grand Slam hopes at the final hurdle. "Players have been very good and certainly by Sunday we'll be at our best", said Jones.

"After the Ireland game we have had to refocus and reset".

France got off to a rocky beginning last week, blowing a 16-0 halftime lead to lose 24-19 at home to Wales after a series of blunders.

According to captain Owen Farrell, Ashton's French is minimal while Jones said his experience of the Top 14 was not "greatly" relevant but that his knowledge of the players would be an "advantage".

They have made six changes for Sunday's game (1500GMT), including the return of giant centre Mathieu Bastareaud.

Just a year ago, Ashton was unavailable for England selection and only featured in the Six Nations by offering his expertise as a pundit for France's game against Italy.

It is a fearless move selecting Bamba at prop for such a big game ahead of Atonio, who has 32 test caps, especially considering Bamba's only two global appearances were from the bench and he will be up against Mako Vunipola. Courtney Lawes, his replacement for Twickenham's epic-in-waiting, is not precisely like-for-like - he is a big man, but not as massive or as bulky as Itoje.

Replacements: 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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