6N: England picks new centers, recalls prop Cole for Wales
LONDON (AP) — England selected another new center partnership, recalled prop Dan Cole, and put Nick Easter and Danny Cipriani on the bench in an injury-hit lineup for the Six Nations opener against Wales at Millennium Stadium on Friday.
With Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt and Kyle Eastmond injured, Jonathan Joseph and Luther Burrell will be the latest midfield combination in England’s problem area in recent years.
The experienced Cole has recovered from a foot problem, and replaces injured David Wilson for his first test appearance for almost year.
Easter, who hasn’t played for England since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, will provide cover in the reserves for No. 8 Billy Vunipola and the locks. Cipriani is backup for flyhalf George Ford, and is set for his first Six Nations appearance in six years.
Such is England’s injury crisis that there are only nine survivors from the team that started the victory over Australia in their last November test. Locks Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, flyhalf Owen Farrell, No. 8 Ben Morgan, and flanker Tom Wood are also unavailable because of injuries.
Tuilagi remains a big loss for England coach Stuart Lancaster, as the Joseph-Burrell partnership has just 13 caps between them.
“JJ has been one of the form centers in the country,” Lancaster said on Wednesday. “He and Luther have trained well together and this is a big opportunity for both of them.”
Cipriani is another player in good form for his club, Sale Sharks, and is back in England after being dropped for the autumn tests. His recall for last June’s tour of New Zealand ended a six-year spell in the international wilderness.
Cipriani was preferred to the more conservative Stephen Myler in the reserves.
England lost 30-3 in its last trip to Cardiff, in the 2013 Six Nations title decider.
England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Luther Burrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw (captain), James Haskell, George Kruis, Dave Attwood, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler. Reserves: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Kieran Brookes, Nick Easter, Tom Croft, Richard Wigglesworth, Danny Cipriani, Billy Twelvetrees.