The XV England need to beat South Africa on Saturday – Andy Goode
England haven’t won at Ellis Park for 46 years but if they’re to make history with a first series win in South Africa, they have to make a strong start and Eddie Jones has to get his team selection right straight from the off.
The quad injury Ben Te’o suffered in training last month means captain Owen Farrell will have to start at inside centre rather than flyhalf but there are a lot of question marks elsewhere, particularly in the backline and back row, and this is what I’d do if I were in his shoes.
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15 Elliot Daly
Has made 12 of his 13 Test starts on the wing, with the other at centre, and hasn’t started at full back for Wasps since 2013/14 but has the skillset to make the England number 15 jersey his own and could interchange with Anthony Watson between wing and fullback when he’s back fit, adding an extra string to England’s bow.
14 Denny Solomona
Has translated his exceptional rugby league try-scoring record into union seamlessly and scored six tries in three games for Sale before a ban ruled him out of the latter stages of the season. Still question marks in defence but deserves a chance to start and show what he can do.
13 Henry Slade
Eddie Jones has to get the midfield axis and balance right if England are to be successful. Alex Lozowski has been outstanding for Saracens at outside centre of late but Slade has played there more, has increased his physicality significantly and has all the tools necessary to excel there at international level. His left boot could prove useful too.
12 Owen Farrell
He toured South Africa with England as a young pup in 2012 but is an experienced head now with the captaincy to deal with as well – expect him to take that in his stride. He might have been starting at fly half If Ben Te’o had been fit but if England’s most important player can reproduce his recent Saracens performances for his country, we could be in for something special.
11 Jonny May
Four tries in his last four Tests and 12 tries in 20 games for Leicester, despite his club and country having disappointing campaigns, shows that he is in good form and his pace and finishing ability are perfect for South African conditions.
10 George Ford
Has had his critics and I’ve been one of them but Danny Cipriani hasn’t had a run in the side and Ben Te’o’s injury means Farrell has to start at inside centre. He’ll be targeted in defence but has the ability to cut the Springboks apart in attack if the forwards can get him on the front foot.
9 Ben Youngs
Has started more Tests than anyone else in the England number nine jersey and has a couple of uncapped men for competition on this tour. His experience and relationship with Ford will be vital and he’s still among the world’s best scrum halves in top form.
1 Mako Vunipola
He may have played 34 top level games in the past 12 months starting with the Lions tour but 15 carries and 21 tackles made without missing any in the Premiership final suggest he’s fit and firing. That performance against Exeter is among the best I’ve ever seen from a loosehead prop and he’ll be as important as ever if England are to win the series.
2 Jamie George
It’s amazing that he’s still started just two games in an England shirt but he’s been the country’s form hooker for the past couple of years and he’ll relish stepping out of Dylan Hartley’s shadow.
3 Kyle Sinckler
This would be just his second start in an England jersey and he’ll need to improve his discipline if he’s going to become first choice but has all the ability and should be a major plus in the loose on the hard ground in South Africa.
4 Maro Itoje
Another who’s had a long campaign after starring for the Lions a year ago but peaked at the right time with some dramatically improved performances for Saracens in their Premiership title run-in and looks to be back to his best. A menace at the breakdown again and carrying harder than ever now as well.
5 Joe Launchbury
Was one of the unluckiest men last summer when he missed out on selection for the Lions but stepped into a senior role with England in Argentina and has been among the most consistent performers in the country again over the past 12 months. Should start if he can overcome his current injury concern.
6 Brad Shields
The controversy has been widespread and public but England’s back row needs freshening up and he’s in the squad, so has to start for me. He brings leadership, something England badly need, and will improve the side.
7 Tom Curry
Won three turnovers against the Barbarians and was the standout English player that day. He did the same on his debut in Argentina last summer and may only be 19 years of age but he’s up to the test physically and offers that out and out openside option that England have been missing.
8 Billy Vunipola
Only Farrell rivals him in terms of importance to England. Keep him away from Aussie Rules balls and the nation will be crossing their fingers that his lengthy run of injuries is at an end. He didn’t train ahead of the Premiership final and still managed to make 17 carries and 17 tackles without missing any, so wrap him up in cotton wool and get him out on the pitch for the Tests as the Six Nations showed how much his power and ball-carrying prowess is missed.