Eddie Jones does not believe he is taking a risk by starting Ben Te’o at centre for England’s Test against South Africa.
Te’o has played just 28 minutes for Worcester this season following thigh surgery but has been named in midfield alongside Henry Slade for Saturday’s autumn series opener, live on Sky Sports Action.
England team to face South Africa
“I just find that with some experienced players, as Ben is having played a high number of games in rugby and rugby league, they come around quicker,” England head coach Jones told Sky Sports News.
“He’s had a good physical preparation, we’ve done a couple of good days of training here [in Portugal] and has got through that well. I’m pretty convinced he can handle a Test match.
It’s probably the most inexperienced forward pack we’ve put out.
“It just gives us another option, we want to have that. We know we can play Owen [Farrell] and George [Ford] together and they’re very good, but we also wanted to have a look at a bigger backline.
“This week we’ve got a small forward pack so we need to have a bit more size in the backline. Te’o gives us that.”
Fellow centre Manu Tuilagi has been named on the bench for what could be his first England appearance since the 2016 Six Nations. The 27-year-old has been in impressive form for Leicester this season but Jones wants to ease him back into international action.
“We’re just bringing him through nice and slowly,” he said.
“He’s had a long time out of rugby and is back playing for his club. We just feel that in his first game back he’s better off coming off the bench, finding his feet a bit and then after that we’ll see.”
England vs South Africa
November 3, 2018, 2:00pm
Tuilagi and Te’o were believed to be competing for one starting spot in the England midfield but Jones says he views the former as more of a 13 and would have no problem playing them together.
“It’s to balance what we have in the forwards. Missing the Vunipolas, [Joe] Launchbury and [Courney] Lawes means our forward pack doesn’t have the ball-carrying force it would normally have. We have to find that in a different way.”
Jones admits he had to “dig fairly deep” after a raft of injuries in the forwards. The back row have 10 caps combined with the uncapped Zach Mercer providing cover, while loosehead Alec Hepburn makes his first England start.
“I think we’ve lost in excess of 400 caps,” said Jones. “It’s probably the most inexperienced forward pack we’ve put out.
“We’ve got two young guys at loosehead, Ben Moon and Alec Hepburn. It’s a great opportunity for them.
“Mark Wilson, we’ve taken that he can handle the No 8 position. He has played there a little bit before and we know he is going to give us everything he’s got.”
Wilson has been in excellent form for Newcastle Falcons, who registered stunning wins over Toulon and Montpellier in the Champions Cup last month.
Jones says Wilson’s performance against Montpellier helped him edge ahead of Mercer and Ben Morgan for the No 8 shirt.
“We know he’s a massively committed player,” said Jones. “He plays hard, he gives you everything he’s got. With the forward pack we’ve got, he suits us really well at 8.
“We’ve gone for more of a work-rate back row than an impact back row.”
England vs New Zealand
November 10, 2018, 2:00pm
South Africa have named a powerful pack that includes Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen, but Jones says they would be foolish to underestimate England’s eight.
“There are different ways to skin a cat, as we saw with Japan against South Africa,” said Jones, who masterminded that 2015 World Cup win over the Boks.
“You don’t have to have the biggest players in the world. It’s different for England because we normally have a big forward pack. We’ve got a smaller, inexperienced forward pack but they can’t wait to get out there.”
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