Why South Africa's 'Bomb Squad' has caused Eddie Jones to drop Ellis Genge

England's Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler acknowledge fans after the match - Andrew Couldridge/Reuters
England's Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler acknowledge fans after the match - Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Ellis Genge has been an increasingly influential leader for England over recent campaigns. A fierce focal point with his aggressive carrying and scrummaging on the field, the loosehead prop is also a charismatic and galvanising presence among peers off the pitch.

With all that in mind, his move to the bench for South Africa’s visit to Twickenham will be all the more jarring. Rarely, though, can there have been a stronger reason for Eddie Jones to “change the order”.

As we know, that is the way he prefers to label the process of switching players between the starting line-up and the replacements, rather than speak of dropping anyone. Such sentiments from Jones often elicit weary groans. Here, though, it is a strategy that feels sensible.

If the Bomb Squad was christened at the 2019 World Cup, then the importance of the Springboks’ bench hit home again over the second and third Tests of the British and Irish Lions tour in 2021.

In each of those matches, the hosts overcame skinny half-time deficits to register vital victories. On both occasions, they squeezed their opponents with set-piece excellence thanks to the arrival of reinforcements.

Trevor Nyakane and Vincent Koch were South Africa’s heroes in the series decider. During the last 10 minutes, they squeezed two pivotal scrum penalties out of the Lions. The props in red for the denouement? Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler.

Mako Vunipola of England takes on Ardie Savea during the Autumn International match between England and New Zealand - Why South Africa's 'Bomb Squad' has caused Eddie Jones to drop Ellis Genge - David Rogers/Getty Images
Mako Vunipola of England takes on Ardie Savea during the Autumn International match between England and New Zealand - Why South Africa's 'Bomb Squad' has caused Eddie Jones to drop Ellis Genge - David Rogers/Getty Images

Jones starts that pair this weekend, either side of Jamie George. England are likely to finish with a front row of Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Will Stuart. Do not be surprised if Genge is introduced as early as the half-hour mark.

Mako Vunipola will be asked to summon the energy that drove a sensational finish against New Zealand. At the heart of some exceptional phase-play, he was phenomenal as England plundered three tries. But, it should be stressed, a harum-scarum period contained no scrums. Against both Argentina and Japan, England conceded late set-piece penalties.

South Africa may have been shorn of Nyakane and Koch, and they may only have five forwards on their bench. Still, they have kept back Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff and Thomas du Toit. They will be able to exert fearful pressure at the end.

Elsewhere, Jack Nowell makes it a pair of vice-captains to be moved to the bench as Tommy Freeman comes in on the right wing. Freeman appeared unflustered and impressive in Australia while taking his first steps in the Test arena. Returning from injury, he provides added pace and passing skills to link sweeping attacks.

He gives England another taller figure in the back three to complement Freddie Steward and Jonny May. Kicking exchanges will be prevalent. Guy Porter can count himself unlucky, because his off-the-ball tracking helped England overwhelm New Zealand.

Otherwise, the backline is unchanged, which represents a reward for the progress demonstrated by Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell. Jack van Poortvliet gets a significant vote of confidence, too. He is retained ahead of Ben Youngs.

Finally, and as expected, the back five of the pack is configured to focus on the lineout after costly hiccups in this area against the All Blacks. Sam Simmonds reverts to the replacements and Alex Coles wears the number six shirt rather than number four, in a slight tweak from his debut. Maro Itoje stays at lock, then, and David Ribbans will be tasked with reprising his cameo of a week previously.

Unfurling two fantastic offloads, the Somerset West-born second-row was at the heart of a comeback orchestrated by England’s own Bomb Squad. In a match that requires a strong performance to end what has been a tricky year, Jones has surveyed the course and picked his horses accordingly, unseating his vice-captains in the process.