The British and Irish Lion will make only his third start in the position since the launch of the Eddie Jones era in 2016, moving from inside centre to form a midfield trio alongside Ben Te’o and Henry Slade for the the first of four Quilter Internationals being staged this month.
It means George Ford continues with the bench role he filled against the Springboks in Cape Town in June as Jones looks beyond the twin playmaker policy that has previously served him well.
Already England’s co-captain, tactical general and goalkicker, Jones has now entrusted the Saracen with the creative duties as the countdown to next year’s World Cup enters a key phase.
“I wanted to see the difference it makes playing Owen at 10 with bigger centres. Tactically we’ll be a little bit different,” Jones said.
“Owen’s a good decision-maker and he has a very good tactical kicking game.
“He’s a bit of a spiritual leader in our side so being close to the action will help in that regard.”
In reference to Farrell’s father Andy, Jones said: “He’s from good stock and handles responsibility well.
“He’s an aggressive competitor. We need that against South Africa, definitely.”
The selection of Te’o at inside centre is a gamble given the Worcester centre has been limited to a mere 28 minutes of rugby this season due to thigh surgery and a calf problem, but Jones has been persuaded by his impact during the the squad’s training camp in Portugal.
“Ben’s ready to start. He’s a very good player – a Lions player – so we know what he’s capable of doing.
“More experienced players and particularly players who have played a lot of high-level games – as he has given his rugby league background – tend to know how to prepare to get back into games. They know what their body needs.
“Rather than coaches telling them what they need, they tell the coaches what they need. Ben is in that category.”
Chris Ashton, who has become available after leaving Toulon for Sale, has failed to make the matchday 23 altogether with Jonny May and Jack Nowell preferred on the wings.
“Chris was very close. He’s very disappointed, absolutely gutted but I have to say I love his attitude, he has taken it well and his opportunity won’t be far away,” Jones said. The void left by the unavailability of Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes at number eight is filled by Mark Wilson, who will be winning his fifth cap as part of an alarmingly inexperienced pack.
Dylan Hartley, Farrell’s co-captain, has more caps than the rest of the forwards put together having made 93 international appearances as Jones contends with an injury crisis.
“I wouldn’t say this has been the most difficult team election, but it’s the deepest we’ve had to dig,” Jones said.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a full squad any more.
“The only time we will have any chance of getting our best team together is when we get together on July 8 for the World Cup.
“Otherwise we are just going to be picking players out from here, there and everywhere to try to get through the next period of time. That’s the reality of rugby – particularly up here.”
How the two sides line-up – England: E Daly (Wasps); J Nowell (Exeter), H Slade (Exeter), B Te’o (Worcester), J May (Leicester); O Farrell (Saracens, co-capt), B Youngs (Leicester); A Hepburn (Exeter), D Hartley (Northampton, co-capt), K Sinckler (Harlequins), M Itoje (Saracens), G Kruis (Saracens), B Shields (Wasps), T Curry (Sale), M Wilson (Newcastle). Replacements: J George (Saracens), B Moon (Exeter), H Williams (Exeter), C Ewels (Bath), Z Mercer (Bath), D Care (Harlequins), G Ford (Leicester), M Tuilagi (Leicester). South Africa: D Willemse; S Nkosi, J Kriel, D de Allende, A Dyantyi; H Pollard, I van Zyl; S Kitshoff, M Marx, F Malherbe, E Etzebeth, PS du Toit, S Kolisi (capt), D Vermeulen, W Whitelely. Replacements: B Mbonambi, T du Toit, W Louw, RG Snyman, L de Jager, E Papier, E Jantjies, A Esterhuizen.