After digesting Eddie Jones’ selection for England’s first Test against the Springboks, Joe Harvey takes a look at the starting XV as England look to gain some positive results in preparation for next year's World Cup after a tough 2018.
Eddie Jones has said England's players have a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity", here is what Joe thinks...
1.Mako Vunipola – Mako is undoubtedly the first name on the team-sheet for any head coach. The loosehead prop gets through a tremendous amount of carries, tackles and contributes at the breakdown to great effect. Clearly the exception to any comments about post-British & Irish Lions fatigue, it is expected that Vunipola will continue to impress on tour.
2.Jamie George – It is Dylan Hartley’s enforced break due to successive concussions that sees George take on the number two shirt on a full-time basis. However, in the last few games, George has been somewhat unimpressive in the run-up to the South Africa tests. Reaching his peak years, but with only 25 caps, George could start playing his best rugby this summer.
3.Kyle Sinckler – Whilst only an international rookie with just 10 caps, Sinckler was mightily impressive as the second-choice tighthead on the Lions tour. Sinckler does have problems with discipline though. Aggressive in every facet of the game, it is a concern that the South Africans will be able to rile the young prop into making mistakes and costing England.
4.Maro Itoje – Once English rugby’s great hope, Maro Itoje’s public perception has changed somewhat this season. Itoje’s best performances this term have come in a Saracens shirt and his displays for England have been subject to much scrutiny. Capable of much more than what England fans have seen this campaign, the hope is that Itoje’s form in the white jersey will change.
5.Nick Isiekwe – Whilst undoubtedly a fantastic talent, Isiekwe has played nearly all his rugby this season as a blindside flanker. Only at lock due to Joe Launchbury’s fitness troubles, the 20-year-old will be winning only his third cap for his nation and to be playing in one of the most difficult countries in the world to tour, it wouldn’t be surprising if Isiekwe was over-awed by the occasion.
6.Chris Robshaw – One of the most experienced England players still pulling on the jersey, Robshaw is returning to the place his England career began. It is his knowledge that England will require the most and he will also be a good sounding-board for Owen Farrell both on and off the field. An absolute workhorse, Robshaw will be one of the most important players in the pack on Saturday.
7.Tom Curry – Curry’s last cap came in Argentina whilst the majority of his seniors were in New Zealand with the Lions. Having come on leaps and bounds this season, Curry is playing beyond his years in the Premiership and is thoroughly deserving of his place in the starting line-up. Vastly improved at the breakdown, Curry is one to look out for Saturday evening.
8.Billy Vunipola – The wrecking ball that is Billy Vunipola hasn’t been seen in an England jersey for a disappointingly long time. His physicality on this tour to South Africa is vital against what is a monstrous Springbok pack. His only remit will be tackling and carrying the ball, but the most interesting thing to see will be whether the England environment will help or hinder Vunipola.
9.Ben Youngs – His Six Nations was cut painfully short, but Youngs was still one of Leicester’s best players as the club failed to reach the play-offs. Reaching his 75th cap in this game, Youngs is the most experienced player on tour. This expertise will be helpful when coming up against his opposition.
10.George Ford – Approaching 50 caps, Ford is one of England’s more experienced players. The main question hanging over Ford’s head is whether he will cope physically against the Springboks. It wouldn’t be surprising if the South African’s were to target the Leicester man. However, he does act as a good metronome for the English as they try to start their tour on the front foot.
So there you have it. @Harlequins have, according to Eddie Jones, been playing Mike Brown out of position all these years. He is a wing!— chris jones (@chrisjonespress) June 7, 2018
11.Mike Brown – Let’s be honest, Mike Brown is a fullback so why he is in on the wing for a second-successive game is perplexing! The main reason that Brown could be on the wing is due to Jack Nowell’s injury. With the Exeter man being unavailable, England are missing a winger who will work extremely hard whether he has the ball or not. This is a characteristic that no side would want to lose, so hopefully Brown can provide on the day.
12.Owen Farrell – England’s captain made his name for the national side at fly-half but is also mightily impressive as a midfield maestro. He leads his nation through his aggressive attitude that means he can inspire his countrymen to victory in Johannesburg. Picking up his form as the season ended, Farrell arrives in South Africa in good fettle, ready to start off his spell as captain with success.
13.Henry Slade – Slade’s inclusion at outside centre was somewhat of a surprise. With all England’s other options injured going into this tour, Slade has benefitted massively after his form dropped at the end of the regular season. Having had a stop-start England career so far, Slade will hope that he can finally show how good he can be for England with the World cup only over a year away.
14.Jonny May – May is one of the Premiership’s quickest players and one of the countries best finishers. His inclusion doesn’t come as a massive surprise. With injuries to Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell, Eddie Jones hasn’t picked a wide range of wingers for England. May will be bolted on to start each test, injury permitting, and will most likely impress.
15.Elliot Daly – Only playing his second game at fullback for England, it is Daly’s ability to create something out of nothing that see’s him in the 15 shirt. In addition to this, his siege cannon of a boot could prove crucial in high altitude. Easily one of England’s best players, Daly will be vital on tour.
Brad Shields – Shields has come to the England camp and has made many headlines as a result. One of two back-rows on the bench on Saturday, Shields will finally represent the Red Rose.
Brad Shields played for NZ U20 against an England team containing George Ford, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly and Mako Vunipola in the 2011 Junior World Cup final.— Rory Keane (@RoryPKeane) June 7, 2018
On Sunday, he will run out with them at Ellis Park
Denny Solomona – The rugby league convert hasn’t had much time in the England camp this season. But like so many of the players in South Africa, he has benefitted from injury and as a fantastic finisher. Solomona is likely to make the most of his opportunity.