England boss rings the changes for South Africa battle
08:45 21 November 2012
Stuart Lancaster last night signalled a change in direction for England after revealing at least four changes to the side for Saturday’s QBE international against South Africa.
Number eight Thomas Waldrom, flanker Tom Johnson and wing Charlie Sharples have all been dropped from England’s matchday squad after starting the 20-14 defeat to Australia.
Joe Marler is out with a knee ligament injury and is set to be replaced at loosehead prop by Alex Corbisiero, who is fit again after finally recovering from a knee problem of his own.
Gloucester’s Ben Morgan and the versatile Wasps loose-forward James Haskell are vying for Waldrom’s number eight jersey, while Tom Wood seems certain to replace Johnson on the blindside.
The decision to axe Sharples leaves Chris Ashton as the only specialist wing in England’s squad, meaning one of Mike Brown, Manu Tuilagi or Jonathan Joseph will be pressed into action out of position.
Lancaster will confirm his starting line-up tomorrow morning.
England’s preferred tactic on the summer tour of South Africa was to play with two specialist full-backs in the back three in a bid to combat the Springboks’ kicking game.
That would point to Brown starting on the left wing, where he spent time off the bench in the games against both Fiji and Australia.
Lancaster must also decide whether to stick with his hard-hitting centre combination of Tuilagi and Brad Barritt or introduce the attacking potential of Joseph into the midfield mix.
“We have made some changes this week to freshen up the squad before the challenge of South Africa,” Lancaster said.
“We feel [the changes] will add energy and balance to the team ahead of the significant South African challenge.”
That Springbok challenge was articulated in a passionate address from Wood, who is in line to make his first start since the group stages of the 2011 World Cup.
Wood was sidelined for the rest of last season with a complicated toe injury, which still causes him discomfort and has led to him wearing special boots with stiffened soles.
Had Wood been fit for the Six Nations he may well have been Lancaster’s captain - and he certainly sounded like a leader as he delivered a call to arms to England.
“It’s us against them. James Haskell, who has experienced playing in the Super 15, says that playing South Africans is like a man test,” Wood said.
“If you do show any fear and if you do back off to any extent you’ve got a long day at the office. There has got to be an element of that (nastiness), definitely.
“I’m not the biggest person physically in the world but I’m combative and abrasive and I like to get stuck in.
“This challenge South Africa present is exactly the type I enjoy - and it’s going to be at the highest level.”