Exclusive: England will turn to Marler, the first of the Mohicans, to face South Africa
21:16 GMT, 6 June 2012
Joe Marler went cage-diving at the local aquarium but on Saturday the Harlequins prop will be pitched into a drier but more dangerous Shark Tank as he makes his Test debut for England.
The Kings Park stadium in this city by the Indian Ocean has acquired that nickname as the home of the Natal Sharks Super 15 side. That is the forbidding arena where Marler must prove that for all his outlandish Mohican hair-style, he is a young prop of sufficient substance to stand up to the might of South Africa’s formidable pack.
There have been encouraging signs of progress in his scrummaging to complement ample skill in the loose, but that set-piece improvement must be in evidence against opponents who prioritise that staple of the game.
Hair apparent: Joe Marler's strong game in the loose and improving scrummaging has earned him a Test debut
Head coach Stuart Lancaster will name the rookie loosehead in place of Alex Corbisiero, who is still recovering from a biceps operation, in a reshuffled side featuring another Test newcomer, Exeter flanker Tom Johnson.
He will start at blindside on the back of a superb display against the Barbarians at the end of last month and in the enforced absence of established No 6s Tom Croft and Tom Wood. Johnson has been chosen ahead of James Haskell, who has considerable experience but is still settling in after his arrival from New Zealand, where he has been playing for Otago Highlanders.
Lancaster and his assistants, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt, have settled on a new-look back-three in light of David Strettle’s inability to train due to a lingering injury.
With the Saracens wing out of the equation for now, Ben Foden has been shifted out wide to make room for Mike Brown of Harlequins to cap a sensational season at club level by reclaiming the England No 15 shirt.
Elevation: Mike Brown (centre) will start as full back
The 26-year-old has been recalled to the starting XV on the strength of his consistently accomplished form during Quins’ record-breaking, title-winning campaign in the Aviva Premiership, but also because he offers a left-footed kicking option and is another player at ease under the high ball.
In all, there are four changes to the XV who lined up for the Six Nations finale against Ireland at Twickenham which ended in a rousing 30-9 victory for the hosts.
Ben Youngs will be reinstated at scrum-half, ahead of Lee Dickson, with the Northampton No 9 to be included among the replacements. Despite his electric form for Quins in the latter part of the season, Danny Care is being made to show patience and persistence in his quest to win back his place.
Although Youngs has played so much of his best international rugby when in tandem with his Leicester half-back partner Toby Flood, the No 10 who is England’s most experienced player will have to bide his time as Owen Farrell is once again picked at fly-half.
Reinstated: Ben Youngs will be at scrum-half
After an off-key display against the Barbarians, the coaches will be closely scrutinising his contribution in open play, seeking signs of greater assurance and authority. What they will expect is that the young Saracen can punish any Springbok indiscretions with reliable goal-kicking.
Outside Farrell will be the familiar and reassuring figure of Brad Barritt, who will relish a return to his home city and the stadium where he played many times for the Sharks.
He will provide the defensive ballast while Manu Tuilagi’s primary objective at outside centre will be to generate attacking momentum with his strong running in midfield.
Up front, Ben Morgan has recovered from a hamstring injury to retain his place at No 8 alongside Johnson and captain Chris Robshaw. Mouritz Botha is the other South Africa-born player in England’s starting ranks for this game, while Geoff Parling will be charged with orchestrating the destruction of the Boks’ previously-renowned lineout.
Sink or swim Geoff Parling will play in the first Test
Completing the pack are the established pair of Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole at hooker and tighthead prop.
While there are several Test rookies in this England side for such a daunting assignment, South Africa have a callow look too, with three debutant forwards — locks Juandre Kruger and Eben Etzebeth, and flanker Marcell Coetzee.
Yet, Etzebeth is particularly highly regarded as an abrasive ‘enforcer’ in the Bakkies Botha mould and Heyneke Meyer, the Boks coach, said that the 20-year-old from Cape Town could be even better than the notorious hard man whose shoes he is trying to fill.