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Eddie Jones set to pick Tom Wood as England's openside against South Africa

Published 08/11/2016

Tom Wood is set to start against South Africa
Tom Wood is set to start against South Africa

Tom Wood is poised to provide the solution to England's problematic openside position by starting against South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday

The Northampton captain, whose shaggy appearance has earned nicknames of 'Samson' and 'Rambo' from head coach Eddie Jones, appears to have edged Nathan Hughes and Teimana Harrison for the seven jersey.

Jones jettisoned Wood after last autumn's World Cup, viewing him as "distinctly average", but has turned to the 30-year-old veteran of 42 caps in the injury enforced absence of James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford, Sam Jones and Mike Williams.

He was a surprise inclusion in the squad named last month for the Old Mutual Wealth Series, but his experience, work-rate and line-out expertise are set to be favoured above the explosive potential of Hughes and Harrison's more traditional openside skill-set.

A familiar back row of Wood, Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola is likely to start against South Africa, who have not lost the fixture in 12 meetings dating back to 2006.

There was a scare in training on Tuesday afternoon when Courtney Lawes went down clutching his leg during a mauling session and although he was able to resume, he appeared to be in discomfort.

Lawes was only passed fit to face the Springboks on Monday having struggled with a knee injury and there is second row cover in the 25-man squad retained at England's Surrey training base in the form of Dave Attwood and Josh Beaumont.

Jonny May and Marland Yarde will occupy the wings against South Africa after Semesa Rokoduguni was trimmed from the 34 who trained in Portugal last week.

May's last appearance was against Australia in the World Cup 11 months ago due to a succession of injuries and this autumn has been the rapid Gloucester threequarter's first opportunity to press his claim under Jones.

The only outstanding issue appears to be the make-up of the bench, with Jones potentially opting for a six-two split in recognition of the forward might South Africa can bring to bear.

Attwood, Beaumont and Nathan Hughes would provide England with ample muscle should they opt for six forwards among the replacements, in which case Ben Te'o is likely to make way.

Replacement scrum-half Danny Care has a minor shoulder complaint but will be ready to face the Springboks with Jones due to name his team on Thursday morning.

England 25-man squad retained for Saturday's match against South Africa:

Forwards (15): J Beaumont (Sale Sharks), D Attwood (Bath Rugby), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), J George (Saracens), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), N Hughes (Wasps), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton Saints), J Marler (Harlequins), C Robshaw (Harlequins), K Sinckler (Harlequins), T Taylor (Wasps), B Vunipola (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), T Wood (Northampton Saints).

Backs (10): M Brown (Harlequins), D Care (Harlequins), E Daly (Wasps), O Farrell (Saracens) , G Ford (Bath Rugby), J Joseph (Bath Rugby), J May (Gloucester Rugby), B Te'o (Worcester Warriors), M Yarde (Harlequins), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

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