ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster insists Anthony Watson is ready to be thrust into a first international start tomorrow after naming the 20-year-old Bath wing in his team to face South Africa.
Watson, who made his Test debut off the bench in last week’s narrow defeat to New Zealand, replaces injured club colleague Semesa Rokoduguni in the only change to the side beaten by the All Blacks.
The London Irish academy product is preferred to Harlequins’ Marland Yarde, with whom he formed a devastating England Under-20s double act, despite having failed to score since the first day of the season. But Lancaster dismissed fears that Watson was too inexperienced to take on a Springboks squad boasting more than 1,000 caps and five members of the 2007 World Cup-winning team.
He said: “Anthony has been pushing hard for a while. He has got all the physical attributes you need. He’s tall, good in the air, has pace and good footwork. Now his experience will be tested.
“His chance has come because of the injury to Roko, and his form for Bath this season, but also because of the conversation I had with him before the New Zealand match. It would have been a big step for a 20-year-old to go into a match against the world champions from the start but what came across was how confident he was and how prepared he was. He is definitely ready.”
Lancaster has Courtney Lawes available after the flanker, like hooker Dylan Hartley, was passed fit following a concussion. South Africa are the only major team England have failed to beat since Lancaster took charge and are undefeated in 11 contests against the Red Rose.
Starting XV: M Brown; A Watson, B Barritt, K Eastmond, J May; O Farrell, D Care; J Marler, D Hartley, D Wilson, D Attwood, C Lawes, T Wood, C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola
Replacements: R Webber, M Mullan, K Brookes, G Kruis, B Morgan, B Youngs, G Ford, M Yarde