Shields re­places Rob­shaw for sec­ond Test against South Africa

The Guardian - - NEWS - Robert Kit­son

Only a few months ago an Eng­land team-sheet con­tain­ing Brad Shields and Danny Cipri­ani and lack­ing Chris Rob­shaw would have been about as likely as Ed­die Jones wear­ing a cra­vat. Fash­ions are chang­ing within in­ter­na­tional rugby, how­ever, and the newly ar­rived Shields and much dis­cussed Cipri­ani have both been in­vited to add a dash of some­thing dif­fer­ent in Bloem­fontein this week­end.

Jones did not pluck the 27-year-old Shields out of Su­per Rugby on a whim and, sure enough, the Hur­ri­canes cap­tain has now been whisked into the start­ing XV ahead of Rob­shaw, vir­tu­ally ever present since Stu­art Lan­caster made him his cap­tain in 2012. Cipri­ani is on the bench but he has not fea­tured in a pre­vi­ous Test un­der Jones and his mere pres­ence in the match­day 23 is a fur­ther sign of Eng­land’s de­sire to change things up.

With South Africa 1-0 up in this three-Test series this is no time to be play­ing safe, par­tic­u­larly in the back row. Even Rob­shaw would con­cede he has dipped be­low his usual con­sis­tent stan­dards of late and an­other fast-paced con­test at al­ti­tude is an ideal moment to dis­cover if the New Zealand-reared Shields can make the un­usual leap from Su­per Rugby stal­wart to in­flu­en­tial north­ern hemi­sphere Test reg­u­lar.

With his English-born par­ents, Nigel and Danielle, set to fly in for the oc­ca­sion, it is also a chance for the new man to un­der­line his own com­mit­ment to the red rose cause hav­ing been in­volved with Eng­land for un­der a fort­night. Even he has been taken aback by how swiftly he has been fast­tracked but is un­der­stand­ably keen for the scep­tics to know all about the English blood flow­ing through his veins.

“My grand­par­ents were very English and there was a lot of English her­itage in the way we were brought up – all the tea­spoons on the wall, chip butties on Sun­day after­noon. My par­ents moved [to New Zealand] when they were young but they def­i­nitely made sure we knew where we came from.”

Shields’ par­ents were orig­i­nally from Hull and Es­sex re­spec­tively and his aunt lives in Mar­low, mak­ing last week­end’s an­thems at El­lis Park be­fore his de­but off the bench a mem­o­rable moment. “Singing the an­them was pretty spe­cial be­cause that’s my blood her­itage and it’s where my fam­ily is from. I didn’t ex­pect to be named in the squad and my heart re­ally started beat­ing when I found out.”

This week­end will feel even sweeter. “Words can’t re­ally de­scribe it. It’s every man’s dream to pull on an in­ter­na­tional jersey and start. To have your name read out [in the start­ing XV] is a level up. I’m 100 per cent com­mit­ted. If I didn’t want to be here, I’d have said no but I re­ally want to take my skills to the next level .”

If the pre­cise date when Jones first in­quired about Shields’ avail­abil­ity re­mains un­clear – both player and coach said they could not re­mem­ber ex­actly when con­tact was made – the qual­i­ties the Eng­land man­age­ment have cho­sen to in­vest in are no se­cret. Their lat­est re­cruit brings char­ac­ter, lead­er­ship, work-rate and de­cent li­ne­out skills; with Rob­shaw strug­gling and the lanky Pi­eter-Steph du Toit el­e­vated to the Spring­bok back row, Jones’s tough­est job was telling the 65-times capped Har­lequin flanker, whom he in­sists has not been en­tirely pen­sioned off: “I’m sure every­one out there ad­mires the courage and tenac­ity he plays with every week. I’m sure they’re not say­ing he’s writ­ten off, I’m sure they’re say­ing he’s still got a chance to play for Eng­land.”

Com­pared with the first Test, how­ever, the bal­ance of the Eng­land pack looks slightly im­proved, with Joe Launch­bury back in the sec­ond row and Nathan Hughes and Mark Wil­son on the bench. The start­ing back di­vi­sion is un­changed but the pos­si­ble need to con­jure some­thing in the fi­nal quar­ter to keep the series alive has seen Cipri­ani pre­ferred to Piers Fran­cis.

“He’s des­per­ate to play for Eng­land and he’s re­ally worked hard,” said Jones, cit­ing Cipri­ani’s “dili­gence” on tour as a fac­tor in his se­lec­tion. “He’s dropped some body fat, got fit­ter and made the tran­si­tion from play­ing like a club player to play­ing like an in­ter­na­tional player. That’s why he deserves this op­por­tu­nity.”

“It’s im­por­tant we play well,” ad­mit­ted the head coach, de­scrib­ing it as “an im­por­tant dress re­hearsal” for next year’s Rugby World Cup. “It’s like a World Cup semi. If you win you go for­ward, if you lose that’s the end of the tour­na­ment. It’s great prac­tice for us.”

A big day also looms for the prop Tendai Mtawarira, who is due to be­come only the sixth Spring­bok to win 100 Test caps. In ad­di­tion to Du Toit’s se­lec­tion at flanker, there is one other change to the home side with Frans Mal­herbe named at tight-head.

STEVE HAAG/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Brad Shields has made a rapid leap into Eng­land’s start­ing line-up to­mor­row

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