BAGSHOT: Gloucester scrum-half Willi Heinz was handed a chance to force his way into England’s World Cup squad after being given a Test debut in the starting side to play Wales at Twickenham on Sunday.
The 32-year-old Heinz, born in Christchurch, New Zealand, has also been selected as vice-captain for this weekend’s match against Grand Slam champions Wales, a fixture that takes place just a day before coach Eddie Jones names his 31-man World Cup squad for Japan 2019.
Fly-half George Ford will captain the team in the first of England’s four World Cup warm-up matches.
“Willi has earned the opportunity, he’s been good with Gloucester and he deserves this chance,” England attack coach Scott Wisemantel told reporters at the squad’s training base outside in Bagshot, after Jones named his team on Friday.
“We’ve got a good pool of good half-backs. He’s in that pool. We know what the others can do, let’s see what Willi can do. Willi’s quite aggressive and forceful. That’s a different profile for us.”
In spite of being born and bred in New Zealand, Heinz qualifies to play for England through his grandmother, Aylieff, who came from Southampton.
Heinz has impressed since joining Gloucester in 2015 and took part in an England training session two years ago without being given a debut by Jones.
“Willi’s been brilliant since he came in and has been brilliant for Gloucester up until this point. He’s captained them as well,” said Ford who will lead the side in place of Owen Farrell who is sitting out the Test.
“He has so much energy and everything you want from a nine, such as the strong execution of the basics.”
Ben Youngs, England’s first-choice scrum-half, is on the bench.
Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie is also set to win his first cap after impressing in the English Premiership last season.
Meanwhile, left wing Anthony Watson will be making his first appearance for England since damaging his achilles at the end of the 2018 Six Nations.
Sam Underhill and Tom Curry start in the same back row despite being specialist opensides with Curry packing down at blindside flanker.