England are set to unleash abrasive centre Ben Te’o on the Springboks at Twickenham this weekend after the Worcester man was the surprise inclusion in the Roses starting XV.
Te’o‚ a former Rugby League star‚ has been plagued by injuries over the past year‚ which has seen him play only 28 minutes of rugby since May.
But the 1.90m‚ 106kg Te’o is a British & Irish Lion and was one player who troubled the All Blacks in their 2017 series with his direct running and ability to get over the gainline. Think of him as a more skilful Andre Esterhuizen.
And when he retreats the dangerous Manu Tuilagi is waiting to reignite his Test career‚ which has been in limbo for over two years following a spate of injuries.
Tuilagi is only 27 and when fit‚ considered one of the most imposing inside centres in the game. The Boks are in for a tough afternoon in that channel.
With Te’o in the No 12 jersey Owen Farrell makes a return to flyhalf for only the third time since Rugby World Cup 2015. He started at inside centre in all three June Tests against the Boks in SA.
Coach Eddie Jones has had to make seven changes from the England team that beat the Boks 25-10 in the final Test of that series in Cape Town.
Injuries have cut a swathe through the pack ruling out at least seven regular squad members up front.
Prop Mako Vunipola‚ No 8 Billy Vunipola‚ locks Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury and looseforwards Nathan Hughes‚ Chris Robshaw and Sam Simmonds are out through injury or suspension.
The pack is callow by England standards with hooker and co-captain Dylan Hartley earning his 94th cap‚ which is more than the rest of the eight combined.
“We’ve lost 400 caps with the loss of the Vunipola brothers‚ Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes so that experience is hard to replace‚” Jones said.
“But we’ve still managed to name a very strong bench of finishers with Jamie George and Danny Care who are outstanding players and they will lead the final charge‚” he said.
“Ben Moon (prop) has done really well since he’s come into camp. He’s a solid player‚ good scrummager and also does the basics well.”
Prop Alec Hepburn will make his first start for England after two Tests as a replacement and Jones is confident he will be a solid replacement for Mako Vunipola.
“It was a really tight decision between him (Hepburn) and Ben Moon‚ but the two of them will do a great job for the 80 minutes‚” said Jones. “Alec is a very vigorous player‚ good ball carrier‚ great chop tackler and plays with a high work rate.”
The back row is also light on experience with Zach Mercer set for his debut off the bench while the three starters have 10 caps between them.
Mark Wilson will start at No 8 for his fifth cap‚ with former Hurricanes skipper Brad Shields earning his third cap and Tom Curry his fourth. Curry was a player who caught the eye in the June series against the Boks with his fierce breakdown work.
“Wilson is a very good defensive player‚ hard on the ball‚ gives everything to the them and certainly against the big South Africa forwards his chop tackling will be very important‚” explained Jones.
“Zach Mercer came in as an apprentice 18 months ago so it’s nice to see those guys realise their potential‚ he’s been in good form at Bath and good form in camp.”
England – 15 Elliot Daly‚ 14 Jack Nowell‚ 13 Henry Slade‚ 12 Ben Te’o‚ 11 Jonny May‚ 10 Owen Farrell (co-c)‚ 9 Ben Youngs‚ 8 Mark Wilson‚ 7 Tom Curry‚ 6 Brad Shields‚ 5 George Kruis‚ 4 Maro Itoje‚ 3 Kyle Sinckler‚ 2 Dylan Hartley (co-c)‚ 1 Alec Hepburn.
Subs: 16 Jamie George‚ 17 Ben Moon‚ 18 Harry Williams‚ 19 Charlie Ewels‚ 20 Zach Mercer‚ 21 Danny Care‚ 22 George Ford‚ 23 Manu Tuilagi.