England v South Africa: Remodelled back line may work in Red Rose favour

England's Jonny May: Threat.
England's Jonny May: Threat.
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Jonny May will line up in a remodelled England back three aware of the void left by Mike Brown’s unexpected demotion for the autumn opener against South Africa.

Brown has been dropped for the first time since 2012 after failing to make the cut for Saturday’s clash at Twickenham and a doubt now hangs over his involvement at next year’s World Cup.

Only injury has prevented the 33-year-old from being an ever-present under Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones and as recently as June he made a successful conversion from full-back to wing for the 2-1 series defeat in South Africa.

May was expected to be named on the left wing when Jones announced his team for the first Quilter International this morning with Chris Ashton and Jack Nowell competing to start on the other flank and Elliot Daly lining up at 15.

“It’ll be different because Mike Brown has been a constant,” said May.

“Almost every time I’ve played for England he’s been there.

“Mike always gives 100 per cent on the training field and on game day. Nothing will change with him.

“Not having him here is obviously a bit different, but now it’s time to focus on who we do have.”

The identity of the fly-half is the key talking point in selection with Jones having to choose between Owen Farrell and George Ford.

“I’m very lucky to have played with both of them at 10,” said May, who has tries in each of the last five Tests.

“I play with George at my club Leicester but I must’ve known Owen now since ... I remember playing a warm-up England Under-20s game against Oxford Students with him.

“It’s not like you don’t know these guys, so it doesn’t really matter who starts at 10.”

Another intriguing pick will be in the midfield where Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o appear to be competing for a starting spot while Henry Slade will benefit if Farrell is given the nod at fly-half.

Tuilagi’s presence will give England the firepower at centre previously missing under Jones while Te’o also offers power in the carry.

May believes the team must use their attributes to the fullest.

“You have to play to the strengths of the individuals in your team. It’s the job of your team to bring out the best in each other,” May said.

“If you have a ball carrier you might anticipate an off-load. You might want to give Manu the ball early to get him over the gainline early to set the tone.

“We want to play good rugby and you want to give the best possible platform for players to do what they do well.”

The identity of the back row is intriguing following the cull of Michael Rhodes and Ben Morgan from England’s training camp in Portugal.

Brad Shields is the likely starter at blindside flanker with Zach Mercer set to make his debut at number eight and Tom Curry continuing in the number-seven jersey.

Wales lock Bradley Davies meanwhile will be sidelined until the new year after undergoing knee surgery.

The 64 times-capped Ospreys forward was released from Wales’ autumn Test squad earlier this month. And the Ospreys have now confirmed a lengthy lay-off, as well as an injury to Lesley Kim, who joined in the summer.

“Bradley underwent surgery for a cartilage problem in the knee last week,” confirmed Ospreys’ medical performance manager Chris Towers.