Eddie Jones insists Teimana Harrison is now equipped to provide England with the stopping power he demands of his openside.
Harrison has ousted Northampton team-mate Tom Wood at openside for today’s clash with Fiji at Twickenham, edging Nathan Hughes to win the third cap of a career that appeared destined for an inglorious end in June.
The 24-year-old was hauled off 31 minutes into the third Test against Australia in Sydney due to a lack of physicality, but with the advice of Jones ringing in his ears he returned to Northampton and bulked up.
Jones wants his openside to be a defensive wrecking ball and it was a role James Haskell filled with distinction until foot surgery ended his involvement in the Old Mutual Wealth Series.
Since the Australia tour there have been a succession of injuries in the position and the task of halting Fiji on the gainline now falls to Harrison. “Teimana is now physically better equipped. He has gone away and put on a couple of kilos. He’s worked particularly hard on his tackle technique,” Jones said. “He’s done a lot of good work with Paul Gustard and Jason Ryles in Portugal because our No 7 needs to be a stopper. He needs to stop players on the gainline.
“I don’t see it as a big deal him being replaced against Australia and the team didn’t see it as a big deal either. Everything we do is about the team. Players play a certain amount of minutes. You play 30 or 50 or 70 minutes. Tradition says it’s a big deal, but common sense doesn’t say it’s a big deal.
“My job is to make the national team win. So I use players and minutes in the best interests of the team.
“And how we look after the players if they are emotionally distraught afterwards is part of man management. Teimana is a relaxed New Zealand country boy. Nothing fazes him too much. He gets on and mixes well with the guys. He’s a very humble boy.
“He’s not from a great pedigree in terms of his rugby, so this has been quite a rise for him.”
Harrison packs down in a back row that includes No 8 Billy Vunipola, who along with Hughes and Elliot Daly overcame the fitness issues that resulted in England’s team announcement being delayed by 24 hours.
World player of the year nominee Vunipola is a vital cog in the Red Rose wheel and Jones was reluctant to leave him out.
“Billy loves playing. My experience with Tongan players is that they love playing and they want to play,” Jones said.
“If you don’t pick them for games, you put them in a situation where they won’t perform for you in the next game.”
In total there are five changes, one positional, to the side that toppled South Africa 37-21 at Twickenham last Saturday, with Harrison’s promotion the only adjustment to the pack.
Daly switches from outside centre to left wing, enabling Jonathan Joseph to return in the No 13 jersey, Semesa Rokoduguni makes an appearance on the right wing in place of Marland Yarde and Alex Goode is preferred to Mike Brown at full-back.
Rokoduguni, the Aviva Premiership’s form wing who has served in Afghanistan with the British Army, wins his second cap at the expense of Jonny May and makes his first Test appearance since 2014 as part of a new-look back three.
May and Brown started against South Africa but have been dropped from the 23 altogether with Henry Slade making a surprise appearance on the bench alongside uncapped lock Charlie Ewels.
Jones confirmed that both May and Brown are fit, the latter losing his place in the starting XV for the first time under Jones.
“We’re looking at the chance to increase the depth of the squad. It’s a chance for us to see Alex Goode play and to have a look at Roko,” Jones said. “Roko has exceptional running skills.”