England’s Lancaster looking for ‘eight enforcers’

England's Joe Launchbury during a training session
England's Joe Launchbury during a training session
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Something drastic needed to be done to revive England in time to face South Africa tomorrow and Stuart Lancaster has certainly not held back in his surgery.

The head coach has shown a firm hand by changing half of his pack as part of six changes in total from the side that fell short against Australia last Saturday.

Clearly, with this assertive approach, he has shown the sort of ruthlessness that is required on the international stage and it is easy to see how the alterations could have a positive effect.

Lancaster points to the need for “eight enforcers” in his forwards to douse the expected fire and brimstone the Springboks inevitably bring to these occasions.

After being surprisingly outmuscled by the Wallabies in a 20-14 defeat, he will not risk the same deficiency at Twickenham again.

Loosehead Alex Corbisiero, blindside Tom Wood and No 8 Ben Morgan are the newcomers charged with bringing that much-needed ballast.

Ben Youngs has ousted Yorkshireman Danny Care for the scrum-half role while Mike Brown has edged Charlie Sharples for the left-wing spot, with superior kicking the reason for both.

But perhaps the most notable change involves Joe Launchbury, who just two years ago was shelf-stacking at Sainsbury’s after being rejected by Harlequins.

Now the 21 year-old is contemplating reaching high for another reason – to surpass the mighty Springbok line-out.

Launchbury is promoted for his first Test start after impressing off the bench against the Wallabies.

Making way is his Wasps colleague Tom Palmer, the 33-year-old former Leeds Tykes forward who has been struggling with a calf injury but was perhaps always going to be sacrificed for this more dynamic tyro.

It is a bold decision by Lancaster, putting so much faith in such a young man against such gnarled and imposing opponents as the traditionally abrasive South Africans.

However, Launchbury is seen as England’s version of Eben Etzebeth, the 21-year-old South Africa lock singled out this week by coach Heyneke Meyer as one of the Springboks’ key hard men.

Etzebeth only made his Test debut against England in June but Meyer, the former Leicester director of rugby, already rates him as one of the world’s best second row forwards.

Tellingly, Lancaster did not shy away from the comparisons but he warned England would need more than just Launchbury’s power and dynamism if they are to douse the Springboks’ ferocity.

“I remember watching Etzebeth at the Under-20 World Cup,” he said.

“He has been destined to be a Springbok for a long time. Joe’s journey has been different but he is ready for this challenge.

“You see what he’s delivered off the bench against Fiji and Australia, his ability to deal with the international rugby – there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be an England player for a long time.

“Hopefully we should be sat here in seven or eight years and I’ll be saying ‘Joe Launchbury’s still the best’.

“But we don’t need just one enforcer against the Springboks on Saturday, we need eight.

“We need all our pack to make sure that we are on top of their game to win the breakdown battle, the physical battle, the set-piece battle which will be a necessity to win the game.”

While Launchbury takes over from Palmer on form, the returns of Corbisiero, Wood and Morgan had all been in the pipeline and each will add steel to the pack.

The Springbok physicality is nothing new for Launchbury, who spent an eye-opening six-week placement with the Eastern Kings in Port Elizabeth before joining Wasps.

“It’s a very big, physical game to start my first Test so I understand the responsibility. I do really enjoy that side of the game,” Launchbury said.

“As a 19-year-old kid I really learned about the physicality they bring to everything they do. It was huge.

“They are very macho guys and they like to lift heavy weights.

“On my first day I turned up and was told it was live scrums and mauls at 8 o’clock next morning. It was a bit of a culture shock but by the end of the six weeks I was absolutely loving it.

“I believe we are right up there when it comes to physicality, too.”

Care, meanwhile, is perhaps unlucky to be dropped to the bench where there are further changes, London Irish centre Jonathan Joseph returning along with versatile loose-forward James Haskell and Saracens lock Mouritz Botha all coming in.

Thomas Waldrom and Tom Johnson are considered unfortunate by the England management to have dropped out of the 23 but Lancaster wanted to inject some power and dynamism into his forward pack.

England: A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins); T Flood (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); A Corbisiero (London Irish), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Morgan (Gloucester).

Replacements: D Paice (London Irish), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), M Botha (Saracens), J Haskell (Wasps), D Care (Harlequins), O Farrell (Saracens), J Joseph (London Irish)