Friday 15 December 2017

Lock Joe Launchbury to make England debut as coach Lancaster shuffles his pack for South African test

Alex Lowe

JOE LAUNCHBURY will make his first Test start after England head coach Stuart Lancaster made six changes for Saturday's international against South Africa.

The 21-year-old Wasps lock has replaced his club-mate Tom Palmer from the second row as part of a forward reshuffle that has seen Lancaster change half his pack from the 20-14 defeat to Australia.

Loosehead prop Alex Corbisiero, blindside flanker Tom Wood and number eight Ben Morgan will all make their first starts of the autumn campaign.

For Wood it is a first start since the World Cup after finally overcoming a toe injury and his selection epitomises the "warrior spirit" Lancaster says he wants in his pack.

In the backs, Mike Brown starts on the left wing with England once against employing the tactic of two full-backs in a bid to combat the Springboks' aerial game.

Lancaster recognises the danger of allowing South Africa's direct runners an attacking platform in the England 22 and Brown not only offers reliability under the high ball but a strong left boot.

In the nip-and-tuck battle for the scrum-half jersey, Ben Youngs has been preferred to Danny Care primarily because the England management feel he also offers a better kicking game.

Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt continue in the centres, meaning Jonathan Joseph returns to the England fold on the bench along with versatile loose-forward James Haskell and Saracens lock Mouritz Botha.

"We have picked a team that will give us the best chance of beating South Africa," Lancaster said.

"There were some tight calls, which is what you want as coaches, but the players we have brought in to start have been training well, will bring a real motivation to make the most of their opportunity and will suit the challenge we face against a tough and physical South African team."

Thomas Waldrom and Tom Johnson are considered unfortunate by the England management to have dropped out of the 23 but Lancaster wanted to inject some power and dynamism into his forward pack.

Palmer has been struggling with a calf injury but, after two disappointing performances, it is understood Launchbury would have started anyway.

Launchbury is seen as England's version of Eben Etzebeth, the 21-year-old South Africa lock described yesterday by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer as their "enforcer".

Wood's England career was interrupted by a toe injury at the start of 2012 and he has vowed to bring some "dog" to the England back row in place of Johnson.

Morgan's dynamism in the loose was evident through the RBS 6 Nations but Lancaster wants to see more from his power game - to make hard yards with the ball and "smash" opponents backwards when in defence.

That lack of close-quarters aggression was the reason Morgan lost his place during the summer tour but the England management have been impressed by his development in that area, in conjunction with Gloucester's defence coach Brad Davies.

Lancaster believes Morgan can become the imposing physical presence England need at number eight, both in defence and with the ball in hand.

With Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Tom Croft to return alongside Wood, Morgan and Launchbury, Lancaster is confident England are developing a pack physical enough to mix it with the nastiest around.

While six changes is a substantial overhaul of the team, the returns of Corbisiero, Wood and Morgan have all been in the pipeline.

Corbisiero replaces Joe Marler at loosehead after returning to action two weeks ago from the knee injury he suffered on England's summer tour.

Marler struggled against Australia and is now injured himself - but Corbisiero is considered England's premier loosehead and was always slated to return when fit.

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