George and Vunipola get starts against South Africa as Tuilagi wins 50th England cap

This is Mako Vunipola and Jamie George's first starts of the Autumn Nations Series
©INPHO/James Crombie

To play South Africa in England’s final game of the Autumn Nations Series, Eddie Jones has made four changes to the side that drew 25-25 with the All Blacks almost a week ago.

Experienced front-row duo Mako Vunipola and Jamie George get their first starts of the autumn, the loosehead prop and hooker coming in for Ellis Genge and Luke Cowan-Dickie.

Two experienced options to take on a Springboks side that put so much faith on their set-piece and forwards dominance, Jones described the move as a “gut feeling”, while also having a trio as finishers that can change the game too.

“Just a change of role,” Jones said. “We feel Mako will be good starting and you look at who can potentially come on for us in the second half; [Ellis] Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Will Stuart. That’s a powerful front-row.”

Manu Tuilagi will gain his 50th cap for England, the powerful outside back having had significant spells out from playing following his debut in 2011. When totted up, this weekend would be the Sale Shark back’s 143rdTest for England should injury have not intervened.

On his day, the 31-year-old can be the most impactful player in the England side. Capable of making line breaks at ease when fully firing and packing a punch in defence, Tuilagi is a player with his own rulebook when it comes to how to be managed and started from the bench in the 52-13 win over Japan as part of that.

“It’s been a difficult time for him,” Jones said. “The pleasing thing for us is that for three weeks he’s been involved in every training session.

“Yesterday we did quite a tough session and he got through everything. We’re really pleased about his progress. And the progress of the team.

“This is another opportunity for the team to step up. We started slowly against Argentina, weren’t at our best, and with each game we’ve got a little bit better.”

Earning his third cap, Alex Coles starts the Test at blindside flanker, the forward having only made his England debut against Argentina at the start of the month.

Following the draw with New Zealand, Jones was transparent to the fact that his side would be reverting to having three lineout jumpers in the starting side.

“It’s the importance of the lineout,” Eddie Jones said of his decision to select Coles. “Each game’s different. That six role changes from week to week, what we need and this time we feel we need a third genuine jumper.

“He’s playing against some of the best players in the world. While he won’t be directly up against [Eben] Etzebeth, he’ll play against them, and they are great learning opportunities.

“We have been really pleased by his progress. He’s someone who wasn’t in our immediate picture when we started the autumn, but because of injuries and other issues, he has made his way into the squad, done really well and put himself in the reckoning for a World Cup squad.”

In the final change to that starting side, Northampton Saints back Tommy Freeman starts on the wing for Jack Nowell. 

Nowell, along with Sam Simmonds, Ellis Genge and Luke Cowan-Dickie all go to the bench, the wing’s inclusion among the replacements seeing Guy Porter dropped from the squad entirely.

Other than those alterations, Jones has kept the faith in the rest of his team. Jack van Poortvliet keeps his starting berth after a challenging half against the All Blacks at Twickenham.

Maro Itoje combines with Jonny Hill in the second-row, while Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola look to continue their strong November’s.

Last weekend really saw the emergence of the Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell axis, the 100-cap centre maintains the captaincy too.

Finally, Jonny May and Freddie Steward complete the back three alongside Freeman, while David Ribbans will hope to have another significant impact as a finisher, as will Ben Youngs and Henry Slade.

England starting XV: Freddie Steward; Tommy Freeman, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (C), Jonny May; Marcus Smith, Jack van Poortvliet; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Alex Coles, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, David Ribbans, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell