Joe Launchbury set to return as England fight to keep South Africa series alive

Joe Launchbury set to return as England fight to keep South Africa series alive


England’s efforts to mount a series comeback against South Africa have been boosted by the return of a fit-again Joe Launchbury. The Wasps lock has recovered from a sore calf and is set to feature in a reshuffled pack for Saturday’s second Test in Bloemfontein.

Launchbury will be a valuable addition for a game England have to win to avoid going 2-0 down with one to play. The hard-working forward was conspicuous by his absence in Johannesburg, with Saracens’ Nick Isiekwe being hauled off after only 36 minutes of his side’s 42-39 defeat at Ellis Park, but is now available to partner Maro Itoje in the second row.

A change also looks likely in the back row, with Chris Robshaw under pressure for his place from the newcomer Brad Shields. Robshaw has been a long-standing regular under both Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones but has found his best form elusive lately. Shields heads the list of contenders to replace him, with his soon-to-be Wasps colleague Nathan Hughes having also impressed the management in training.

England badly need to counter the front-foot momentum and quick ball which allowed the Springboks to come storming back from 24-3 down in the first Test. Shields has extensive experience of playing against South African teams for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby and England’s forwards coach Steve Borthwick has been delighted by Shields’s impact since joining the squad last week. “He is a vastly experienced player and a very good one,” said Borthwick. “He’s a fantastic leader, his team-mates have respect for him and people want him on their team.”

Aside from Leicester’s Ellis Genge, who is awaiting the outcome of a scan after injuring a knee in training, England have a full squad available with Exeter’s Harry Williams in strong contention to start at tight-head. With Billy Vunipola still working his way back to full fitness, Hughes will also have a big carrying role to play at some stage but the scrum-half Ben Youngs believes England’s first priority is to defend better as a unit. “We can’t defend like we did at the weekend,” said Youngs. “We were leaving doglegs, we weren’t getting set early enough and our spacing on the ruck was really poor.

“We knew they would have the ball for a period, but unfortunately we were so inaccurate with our decisions around the breakdown in terms of when to compete and giving away soft penalties. You just give up such easy field position and take away any momentum.”

Cramping the style of the home scrum-half Faf de Klerk will also be vital if England want to go to Cape Town with the series poised at 1-1. “He is a lively, lively player and it was frustrating that we were allowing him to basically do what he wanted,” said Youngs. “Hopefully we can cut down his time and space. He’s still a good operator, he’ll still be able to cause us trouble, but we’ll give ourselves a damn better chance.”



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