(Photo: Getty Images)
By Adam Ellis
Billy Vunipola will make his first start for England in over a year when he takes to the field at Ellis Park on Saturday against Springboks.
The Saracens number 8 endured an injury-ravaged season which saw him recuperate from a broken arm and most recently a hamstring injury, before ending the season on a high with Premiership final victory over Exeter Chiefs last month.
And now Vunipola will be at the base of the scrum for an England pack that includes the second-row pairing of Saracens team-mates Maro Itoje and Nick Isiekwe to play South Africa, after Joe Launchbury was ruled out with a calf problem.
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Isiekwe has developed in a similar mould to Itoje by functioning at lock and also on the blindside throughout his professional career. After touring Argentina this time last year with the England set-up, he is joined in the forwards by 19-year-old Sale openside flanker Ben Curry – meaning Brad Shields will take a place on the replacements’ bench.
The Hurricanes back row is in line to win his first cap along with scrum-half Ben Spencer, as Owen Farrell claims captaincy duties.
“We have had a really good week in preparation for this weekend and we are pleased with the way the squad have come together,” said England head coach Eddie Jones.
“Owen Farrell has settled in well to his new role, with the senior players supporting him, and there is a good feeling within the camp. We want to do something special on this tour and the players are all incredibly excited about this challenge and opportunity we have.”
Farrell, 26, leads England in the absence of hooker Dylan Hartley through concussion and will operate at inside centre with Exeter Chiefs Henry Slade outside of him.
England’s tour of South Africa starts in Johannesburg with Tests to follow in Bloemfontein and Cape Town.
England team to play South Africa at Ellis Park, Johannesburg (16:05 KO)
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Mike Brown, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 6 Chris Robshaw, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Denny Solomona