England are set to spring a selection surprise for Saturday’s autumn opener against South Africa by naming Elliot Daly at outside centre in place of Jonathan Joseph.
PA Sport understands Daly is poised to make his first Test start after winning five caps as a replacement, forming a new midfield partnership with Owen Farrell that will provide two long-range kicking options.
Joseph — demoted to the bench for the visit of the Springboks to Twickenham — had been struggling with a minor groin injury, but the Bath three-quarter was on Wednesday declared fully fit by scrum coach Neal Hatley.
“Jonathan trained on Tuesday and will be able to train on Thursday as well,” Hatley said.
England name their starting XV on Thursday morning and if, as expected, Daly is the preferred option, it will be the first time Joseph has been dropped since re-establishing himself during the 2015 RBS 6 Nations.
Daly was one of the Aviva Premiership’s form players last season with his acceleration and eye for an outside break terrorising defences to Wasps’ benefit.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Despite Daly’s form, head coach Eddie Jones opted to retain Joseph for this year’s Six Nations, and, for all his dynamism in open play, it might be the 24-year-old’s long-range left boot that has resulted in his promotion to the starting XV.
Meanwhile, Hatley insists Mako Vunipola’s rapid set-piece improvement has transformed him into the complete player.
Alex Corbisiero, a distinguished predecessor in the Red Rose number one jersey, has acclaimed Vunipola as the best loosehead in world rugby on the strength of a rampaging start to the season at Saracens.
While the impact in open play of England’s form player has never been doubt, his scrummaging was considered a potential weakness until the recent progress brought about by a technical adjustment.
“Mako has been absolutely outstanding for Saracens in the first half of the season,” Hatley said.
“There aren’t many props in world rugby that can do what he does with the ball in hand.
“His set-piece has come on immeasurably.
“Sometimes people get pigeon-holed as a carrying prop or a scrummaging prop and I think he crosses that divide.
“He’s been very sound from a set-piece point of view. We’ve made a few little technical changes to his bind and that’s had a real positive effect.
“There are a lot of good players around, but he’s definitely getting there in terms of being the best loosehead in the world. If Corbs said that, it’s a pretty good endorsement.”
South Africa are experiencing their worst run of results for a decade, including a record home defeat to New Zealand, but Hatley insists their threat must not be underestimated.
“They will probably go with a big pack and a big back five in the way they’ve tried to do for most of the year. It will be a good side,” Hatley said.
“They have been a state of flux, but when they’ve played well they have been very impressive. The Lions did well in Super Rugby. We’re expecting a good side to turn up.
“They have a very good scrum and will probably load up on that back five. There will be big bulk there so it will be a testing day from a scrum point of view.”
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Daly to replace Joseph in England team vs. Springboks
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