England will take on France in Paris tomorrow night with a backline featuring two debutants and a one-cap winger after coach Stuart Lancaster opted for speed over experience in his team for the Six Nations opener.
Jack Nowell, 20, has been rewarded for his promising displays for Exeter with the starting berth on the right wing, with regular No 14 Chris Ashton dropped from the squad.
Jonny May wins his second cap on the left having made his debut on last year’s tour to Argentina as injury ruled out Marland Yarde and Christian Wade from the early Six Nations encounters.
Luther Burrell is given a shot at centre and will link up with Billy Twelvetrees, with Brad Barritt offering some experienced cover on the bench as he eases his way back from injury.
Danny Care, who dropped to third in the scrum-half pecking order in November, goes straight into the XV after his impressive recent showings for Harlequins, with 22-year-old Owen Farrell at No 10. Care, Farrell and full-back Mike Brown have 81 caps between them while the two wings and two centres share only nine.
Lancaster said: “I’ve always believed that, if a player’s ready and deserving of an opportunity, then we’ll give it to him.
“Luther Burrell is ready for the opportunity. He’s done exceptionally well for his club and played in big European games. Jonny May has one cap and it’s a big opportunity for him. He’s a great broken-field runner with great pace and footwork.
“You watch Jack Nowell playing against Toulon, Bryan Habana and these sorts of guys, and I think he’s ready. He is different, he breaks tackles, beats defenders and used to play full-back so is great under the high ball.
“Burrell is someone I’ve known since he was 15 and it was a great pleasure to me to tell him he was playing.”
There is a much more familiar look about the forwards, where Lancaster has suffered less with injury and named the same eight who performed well in November’s narrow defeat by New Zealand.
“We felt the pack went well in the autumn and it’s right to leave it unchanged,” Lancaster added. “But we have some quality players to come on off the bench, including two British and Irish Lions in Tom Youngs and Mako Vunipola.”
England have won six of their past seven Six Nations games against France and will be desperate to continue that form.
“We’ve had a good two weeks and all the players have pushed hard for selection,” said Lancaster. “We can’t wait for Saturday.”
Stand-off Jules Plisson has been named to start for France as coach Philippe Saint-Andre continues his half-back experiment. The 22-year-old Stade Francais player will be alongside scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain in Saint-Andre’s tenth different half-back pairing since he took over from Marc Lievremont after the 2011 World Cup.
Saint-Andre said: “Jules was the obvious choice as he only played ten minutes with Stade Francais [in the Top 14] last Friday and we did a full session with him at number ten while Francois Trinh-Duc only started training on Monday.
“Jean-Marc Doussain has worked at number nine last week.”
Other stand-offs Remi Tales and Camille Lopez are injured and scrum-half Morgan Parra has been ruled out of the game but could make his return from a knee injury at some point in the championship.
Plisson is the only uncapped player to start although, in the second row, lock Alexandre Flanquart has just two France games under his belt.
“It’s part of our strategy, England has tall players in the line-up. We also wanted to have two players who play together all year [Flanquart and captain Pascal Pape],” explained Saint-Andre.
“We have an experienced player and a player who has excellent jumping abilities.”
France will also rely on the power of centres Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud as Florian Fritz, who was the first choice at No 13 in last year’s Tests, is out of the Six Nations with an arm injury.
France: B Dulin (Castres); Y Huget (Toulouse), M Bastareaud (Toulon), W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), M Medard (Toulouse); J Plisson (Stade Francais), J-M Doussain (Toulouse); T Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), B Kayser (Clermont Auvergne), N Mas (Montpellier), A Flanquart (Stade Francais), P Pape (Stade Francais, capt), Y Nyanga (Toulouse), B Le Roux (Racing Metro), L Picamoles (Toulouse). Subs: D Szarzewski (RacingMetro), Y Forestier (Castres), R Slimani (Stade Francais), Y Maestri (Toulouse), A Burban (Stade Francais), D Chouly (Clermont Auvergne), M Machenaud (Racing Metro), G Fickou (Toulouse).
England: M Brown (Harlequins); J Nowell (Exeter), L Burrell (Northampton), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), J May (Gloucester); O Farrell (Saracens), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens). Subs: T Youngs (Leicester), M Vunipola (Saracens), H Thomas (Sale), D Attwood (Bath), B Morgan (Gloucester), L Dickson (Northampton), B Barritt (Saracens), A Goode (Saracens).