BAGSHOT, England :Anthony Watson will make his first start for England in two years after being named on the wing for Saturday’s Six Nations game against Wales in Cardiff, the only change from the side that beat Italy two weeks ago.
In the team announced by coach Steve Borthwick on Thursday, Watson replaces injured Ollie Hassell-Collins on the left wing. Max Malins continues on the right with Henry Arundell edging out Cadan Murley for back three cover on the bench.
Former captain Courtney Lawes and Ben Curry are also among the replacements.
It will be the classy Watson’s first start since the Six Nations in 2021, the year he also appeared twice for the British & Irish Lions against South Africa.
He made a late replacement appearance in the opening Six Nations game against Scotland earlier this month but was not involved in the Italy win.
Watson, who turns 29 on Sunday, missed almost a year with a knee issue and has had several other injury setbacks. He kick-started his career after moving from Bath to Leicester this season – when Borthwick was coach at Welford Road.
“I was fortunate to be part of the coaching team here a few years ago when Anthony was playing so well and then he had a couple of setbacks,” Borthwick told reporters.
“Then I signed him in club rugby and from the day we walked in he was magnificent. His professionalism, the way he prepared himself, the way he helped the younger players, how much he cares as a professional.
“He adds to the mix in those outside backs where we are starting to build competition for places and depth.”
Lawes, 34 on Thursday, has played only a handful of games for his club Northampton after a succession of concussion and injury problems and won the last of his 96 England caps in Australia last July.
However, his calm demeanour under fire could be just what England need after too often wilting under the pressure of a fired-up Cardiff crowd in recent seasons.
“Courtney has worked really hard to come back from injury, potentially sooner than many people forecast and has been incredibly diligent,” Borthwick said of the flanker/lock.
“We want a competitive squad so that we have depth in each position and Courtney certainly adds to that. His quality and experience have contributed to a focused training week, marked by the sort intensity we expect.”
England have lost on their last three visits to Cardiff, including a 2019 World Cup warm-up, though Wales have had a dire start to the championship with heavy defeats by Ireland and Scotland.
Coach Warren Gatland made nine changes when he named his team earlier on Thursday following Wednesday’s negotiations that ended the risk of strike action which threatened a postponement of the match.
Borthwick, the master of detail, unsurprisingly said he had prepared as usual in expectation of the game going ahead but did not dismiss his rivals’ concerns that forced Gatland to delay naming his team for two days and cancel Wednesday’s training.
“I and everybody with the England team have incredible sympathy for what the Welsh players have gone through,” he said. “No player, no professional athlete should have to deal with that level of uncertainty and anxiety.
“We really sympathise with them but, from our point of view, we’ve focused on the game and being the best prepared team we possibly can be. Other stuff we can’t control, so we just concentrate on what we can do.
“We know the Principality Stadium crowd will be in full voice and we will have to be at our very best to repeat the success we had in the last round against Italy.”