Joe Cokanasiga will be given the chance to justify Eddie Jones’s belief he is “something special” when he makes his England debut against Japan.
The giant Bath wing is one of 11 changes in personnel for Saturday’s penultimate Quilter International at Twickenham, with only full-back Elliot Daly retaining the same jersey he wore against New Zealand.
George Ford leads the team after co-captains Owen Farrell and Dylan Hartley were selected on the bench as part of a dress rehearsal for the four-day turnaround between the group games against Tonga and the United States at next year’s World Cup.
It is the presence of Cokanasiga that is generating most excitement, however, as Jones tests whether he can serve as the type of bulldozing wing that England have rarely been able to field.
The Fijian-born powerhouse, who turned 21 on Thursday, has used his 6’4” and 18-stone frame to destructive effect at the Recreation Ground this season and Jones believes he can make an impression on Test defences. “Joe’s pretty excited. He’s a quite a shy boy but increasingly, in the time that he’s spent with the team, he’s come out of himself,” Jones said.
“There’s something a little bit special about him so we’re looking forward to seeing him play. He’s got power and he’s got pace.
“He’s got a nice ball sense, he can throw an offload out of the tackle and he can find the line.
“It’s always handy to have one big winger that can dent a line and there aren’t a lot of those playing rugby in England,” he added,
Jones took Cokanasiga on England’s 2017 summer tour to Argentina, but it was too early for his Test baptism.
“We saw Joe playing for the Under-20s and wanted to see what he had, which at the time wasn’t much! He’d basically run out for training and was exhausted,” Jones said.
“But he has worked really hard at his game, he has changed clubs and shown a real desire to be a Test player.
“He’s toughed out a few games where he’s not been at his best, he’s got some knocks and he’s just hung in there and played tough all the time. It all added up.”
Zach Mercer will be making his full debut alongside his Bath team-mate.
A new-look centre pairing of Jack Nowell and Alex Lozowski start outside Ford and half-back partner Danny Care with Farrell offering midfield cover from the bench against the sport’s number-11 ranked team.