Eddie Jones has overhauled his front row for England’s Autumn Nations Series finale against South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
The experienced pair of prop Mako Vunipola and hooker Jamie George have replaced Ellis Genge and Luke Cowan-Dickie in the starting XV, with England anticipating a huge challenge up front from the ever physical world champion Springboks.
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Vunipola and George impressed off the bench as England staged a remarkable rally to come from 19 points behind late on in a 25-25 draw with New Zealand last weekend and are among four changes to head coach Jones’ run-on side.
Tommy Freeman has been selected for his first appearance since the tour of Australia in July, replacing Jack Nowell on the wing, while Alex Coles takes over from Sam Simmonds at blindside flanker.
Powerful centre Manu Tuilagi is set to make the 50th appearance of an injury-plagued England career that started in 2011, with midfield colleague Owen Farrell again captaining the team.
Jack van Poortvliet, an international novice, has retained his place at scrumhalf despite struggling against the All Blacks, with Ben Youngs — England’s most-capped player — on the bench.
Will Stuart remains among the replacements after coming off the bench to become the first England prop to score two tries with his extraordinary late double in the closing nine minutes against the All Blacks.
South Africa overwhelmed Jones’ men 32-12 in the 2019 World Cup final in Yokohama but the most recent meeting between the teams was a much closer affair, with England edging out the Springboks 27-26 at Twickenham last year.
England started their November campaign with a 30-29 defeat by Argentina before thrashing Japan 52-13 and Jones, after naming his team on Thursday, said: “This is our last game of the autumn and our chance to continue building on the improvements we have made throughout the matches.
“We have made steady progress from game-to-game, culminating in a pulsating draw against New Zealand.”
The veteran Australian coach added: “Now we have the chance to test ourselves against the might of the world champions.”
South Africa named their team on Tuesday, with coach Jacques Nienaber making four changes and the starting XV that thrashed Italy 63-21 in Genoa last weekend.
With the game taking place outside World Rugby’s official window for Test matches, the Springboks will be without Cheslin Kolbe, Andre Esterhuizen, Cobus Reinach, Jasper Wiese and Vincent Koch, who have all returned to their respective English and French clubs.
But wing Makazole Mapimpi, one of the try-scoring heroes of their 2019 World Cup final triumph, has been recalled along with centre Jesse Kriel and forwards Evan Roos and Eben Etzebeth.
England: Freddie Steward; Tommy Freeman, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (capt), Jonny May; Marcus Smith, Jack van Poortvliet; Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Alex Coles; Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola. Bench: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, David Ribbans, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell