England have thrown down a physical challenge to South Africa by dropping Thomas Waldrom, Tom Johnson and Charlie Sharples from their matchday squad for Saturday, opting instead for the powerful Ben Morgan at No8 and either Manu Tuilagi or Mike Brown on the left wing.
Waldrom and Johnson have paid the price for England's defeat to Australia last Saturday, with Morgan and Northampton's Tom Wood poised to be named in the starting XV on Thursday. Alex Corbisiero replaces the injured Joe Marler while his London Irish colleague Jonathan Joseph is also in line for a recall. Given Chris Ashton is the only specialist winger named, it would appear either Tuilagi or Brown is in line for a positional switch unless the head coach Stuart Lancaster opts to play the 21-year-old Joseph on the wing.
The list of 24 names has been further bolstered by the addition of Mouritz Botha and James Haskell, while the Boks have been warned to expect a display of simmering English passion by Wood, whose pre-match routine involves sticking a foot in a bucket of rice. The flanker, who also uses a bucket of sand to help treat an ongoing toe problem, says he is hoping to dish out some serious hammer to the big Springboks pack.
Wood also predicts the entire home team will pile into the Springboks following England's disappointing 20-14 loss to the Wallabies, suggesting he will be "surprised and disappointed" if a fired-up side do not pose stern questions. "It's going to be a tough physical challenge. If we're not prepared, if we don't meet it head-on, I will be surprised and disappointed to say the least.
Both England's players and management are conscious they have been starting games slowly and Wood, who has not yet started a Test during Lancaster's time in charge due to issues with the two tiny bones behind his left big toe, is itching to prove England's forwards are made of tougher stuff than some have been suggesting. "I think it is something we will try to address, not that we have been soft of recent weeks. There are areas of the game where you can't avoid that physical confrontation. The breakdown is one, scrum-time too. We are capable of fronting up physically."
Wood is not short of motivation after being sidelined for a large chunk of this year and restricted to the bench for the majority of England's 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign. He is now happily back playing in specially designed boots with stiffened soles which prevent his foot from flexing, but he is still required to exercise his troublesome toe regularly by immersing it in either rice or sand.
"After games I put my foot in ice and hot and cold water to flush out any inflammation, then claw with my feet in buckets of sand and rice to strengthen the toes. I try to do it three times a day but there is no set protocol. It's just something I've got to keep plugging away at. It doesn't matter where I do it. It's quite nice here at Pennyhill Park because we have the massage and physio room downstairs, with the TV on, so I can just head down and get the various treatments I need. I can get pampered for an afternoon in a bucket of rice."
For England's 'rice-man', however, the real priority this weekend is standing toe-to-toe with opponents who have already outmuscled Ireland and Scotland on this tour. A hamstring injury suffered by the prop CJ van der Linde has forced the Springboks to summon JC Janse van Rensburg of the Golden Lions as cover, but Wood still expects them to test England at source. "They're the type of players who, as opposed to running at space, pick out somebody to run at.
"James Haskell says playing South Africa is like a 'man test'. They look for your biggest guy and get theirs to run at him as hard as they can to see who comes out on top. There will be an element of that at the weekend. It's us against them."
The defence coach Andy Farrell is wary of getting too gung-ho this weekend – "We need to make sure we're not just a raging bull in a china shop" – but England's tackling ability will be crucial. "If you do show any fear and if you back off to any extent, you've got a long day at the office," Wood said. "But if somebody comes charging in, teeth gritted, full of rage, and gets his legs lassoed on the gain line and spills the ball, it has a big negative effect on them. I think the early exchanges are going to be really important psychologically. I'm not the biggest person physically but I'm combative and abrasive and I like to get stuck in."
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