By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - England's captain Owen Farrell will start at flyhalf, alongside a midfield duo of Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade, when they begin the defence of their Six Nations title against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday.
Coach Eddie 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, where Ellis Genge and Will Stuart are the starting props, Mark Wilson returns at blindside flanker and Tom Curry at openside, with Billy Vunipola at Number Eight.
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.
Saturday’s lineup looks to give England more attacking options, with the hard-running Lawrence hoping to get more opportunities than in his previous three appearances.
Slade has been given the chance to display the swooping, creative lines that played a key role in Exeter’s rise in recent years but that have not always come to the fore internationally.
"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 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.
Jones said his players thrived on the idea that it is the game all of Scotland wants to win more than any other.
"We know for Scotland this is their most important game of the year, they talk about it all the time, but Scotland don't have a monopoly on pride," he said.
"That's a huge expectation for them and maybe, with 15 minutes to go in the game, the expectation is going to get pretty heavy for them.
"Our players get an opportunity to play in this historic game and they are going to be ready for it. We know Scotland are going to be up for it, but so will we (be). It should be a great occasion."
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)