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England are ready to rush Billy Vunipola back into their team for the world record tilt against Scotland.
Ahead of Thursday’s team announcement they have pencilled in four changes to their Twickenham starting line-up.
Vunipola is expected to wear the No.8 shirt in place of Nathan Hughes, despite only one club game following knee surgery in November.
Ben Youngs is in line to reclaim the scrum-half berth from Danny Care, and Jonathan Joseph and Jack Nowell are set replace Ben Te’o and Jonny May respectively.
England, it would appear carelessly, revealed their hand on Tuesday when leaving a team list written on white boards beside their training pitch.
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It could of course be a carefully planned hoax. After all, players were given the wrong numbered bibs in an attempt to confuse the watching media.
But there is a logic to this selection as it would mean England reverting to the XV which started against Wales, save for Vunipola, who was unavailable that day.
Even in a set-up which says next to nothing unless it comes out of Eddie Jones’ mouth, there is no attempt to disguise the big man’s worth to the team
“It’s fantastic to have Billy back, it’s a confidence boost for us,” scrum coach Neal Hatley said. “He’s a likeable character, he brings a good energy to the squad.”
Without Vunipola England have kept winning but not come close to hitting the heights they reached with him last year.
Against Italy last time out they were embarrassed by a ‘ruck-less’ tactic they did not recognise – even though Italy rehearsed it on the Twickenham pitch before kick-off.
It is believed they even watched the Italians warm-up without twigging what they were doing. Little wonder there was more tension in the air around training on Tuesday.
At one point captain Dylan Hartley called his forwards together and shouted: “More energy boys! Do that at the weekend and we are f***ed”.
With a share of New Zealand’s world record 18-win streak at stake and Scotland not having beaten the auld enemy at Twickenham since 1983, all the pressure is on England.
And with Jones remaining silent, Scottish assistant coach Nathan Hines seized the opportunity to start the mind games.
The former tartan lock said: ”When I was at [French club] Clermont we went 77 games unbeaten at home, and that is a burden.
"The pressure of, 'am I going to be part of the team that loses the record?' can be paralysing."
England (possible): M Brown; J Nowell, J Joseph, O Farrell, E Daly, G Ford, B Youngs; J Marler, D Hartley (capt), D Cole, J Launchbury, C Lawes, M Itoje, J Haskell, B Vunipola.
Will England beat Scotland for an 18th straight win?
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