England coach Eddie Jones has selected captain Owen Farrell at flyhalf, alongside a midfield duo of Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade, when his Six Nations champions begin the defence of their title against Scotland at Twickenham.
Australian Jones named his team on Thursday, moving Farrell from the inside centre position he has filled more regularly in England’s more important recent games and dropping George Ford to the bench.
With a host of forward injuries and absences to deal with, there is a new look to the pack with Ellis Genge and Will Stuart the starting props, Mark Wilson returning at blindside flanker, Tom Curry at openside and Billy Vunipola at No.8.
Uncapped prop Beno Obano was named among the replacements, as was flanker/lock Courtney Lawes after returning from a long injury absence.
Jones has regularly flipped Farrell from flyhalf to centre, depending on the opposition and the availability of his centres.
In last year’s World Cup his preferred option was the Ford/Farrell combination, though he started Farrell at flyhalf for the impressive quarter-final win over Australia before shifting him back to inside centre for the semi-final and final.
Last autumn, Jones played Farrell at flyhalf against Italy, Georgia and Ireland before recalling Ford for the final two games versus Wales and France.
“It’s a good combination of Owen’s tactical acumen, Sladey’s running skills plus his left-foot kicking and Ollie’s power – we feel that’s right against Scotland,” Jones said.
Farrell, along with Saracens team mates Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Elliot Daly, has not played any rugby since England won the Nations Cup final against France at the start of December.
However, he and Jones are convinced that the layoff will have been more of a rejuvenating break than a handicap.
“For those players who have played a lot of high quality rugby over the last four or five years, it’s been a godsend,” Jones said.
“They’ve come in fresh, they’ve got a spring in their step. At yesterday’s training in particular all those guys were pretty outstanding.”
On the 150th anniversary of the oldest fixture in international rugby, England are heavy favourites to prevail on Saturday against a Scotland team who have not won at Twickenham since 1983.