Brad Shields is poised to make his England debut against South Africa at Ellis Park on Saturday after being unexpectedly fast-tracked into Eddie Jones’s matchday squad.
Shields will supply cover at flanker and lock from the bench less than a week after flying 7,655 miles from Wellington to Durban to join up with his new team-mates for the first time.
The 27-year-old New Zealand-born forward qualifies for England through his parents but has never played in the Aviva Premiership, his contract with Wasps not starting until completion of his Super Rugby commitments with the Hurricanes next month.
His selection has been criticised by a variety of voices ranging from former Red Rose captain and flanker Lewis Moody to World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot, the Argentina great who is a staunch campaigner for stricter eligibility rules. Jones has no compunction picking a player who was stood down from training on Monday due to jet-lag, however.
“Brad is a good workman-like player who has fitted in well off the field,” Jones said. “It’s easy to fit into a squad when people know your attitude is right and he’s brought that to the table. He’s worked very hard to learn what he’s needed to learn.
“He allows us to have Nathan Hughes on the bench, giving our back row variety, and he also covers the lock position.”
Shields was unlikely to have featured among the replacements had Joe Launchbury not failed a fitness test on the calf injury sustained in training last week.
Launchbury’s unavailability means Nick Isiekwe partners Saracens colleague Maro Itoje in the second row, making his first Test start having won two caps as a replacement in Argentina 12 months ago.
“Joe was very close to making it. Earlier in the week I had him pencilled in, but unfortunately on Wednesday he just twinged it a little bit. We’ve decided to save him for the second Test,” Jones said.
“I’ve been enormously impressed by the Nick Isiekwe. We took a bit of a gamble on him last year by taking him to Argentina as a bit of a project player.”
Billy Vunipola makes his first start for England since the end of the 2017 Six Nations to mark the end of an injury-ravaged year.
England team: E Daly (Wasps); J May (Leicester), H Slade (Exeter), O Farrell (Saracens, capt), M Brown (Harlequins); G Ford (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); M Vunipola (Saracens), J George (Saracens), K Sinckler (Harlequins), M Itoje (Saracens), N Isiekwe (Saracens), C Robshaw (Harlequins), T Curry (Sale), B Vunipola (Saracens). Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), J Marler (Harlequins), H Williams (Exeter), B Shields (Hurricanes/Wasps), N Hughes (Wasps), B Spencer (Saracens), P Francis (Northampton), D Solomona (Sale).