England were forced into a late front-row change when destructive loose-head prop Andrew Sheridan dropped out of the side to face South Africa with a neck injury.
Sheridan suffered the injury during England’s 28-14 defeat by Australia last Saturday and he was still in discomfort on Tuesday, when he was named in the team to tackle the world champions.
England manager Martin Johnson had hoped Sheridan would recover in time - but medics today ruled the Sale Sharks prop should be rested “as a precaution”.
London Wasps prop Tim Payne has been promoted from outside the squad to win his ninth cap at loosehead, with Matt Stevens remaining on the bench to cover both sides of the scrum.
Sheridan would have been a key weapon in challenging South Africa’s direct, powerful scrummaging style and his absence is a blow to England’s hopes of ending a run of five straight defeats by the Springboks.
Sheridan has been on “modified training” all week and the decision to withdraw him was finalised after he failed to play a full part in England’s intensive scrummaging session yesterday.
“Andrew Sheridan is a very important player to us but we also believe we have some great depth in props,” said captain Steve Borthwick.
“We have the ability to bring Matt Stevens off the bench, Phil Vickery can also play either side. We have great flexibility and great power.”
Payne will win his ninth Test cap and his elevation takes the Wasps contingent in the England starting XV to eight.
Payne’s last appearance for England was on the summer tour to New Zealand, when he deputised for Sheridan, who had suffered a gash to the eye.
England scrummaging performance will again be under the spotlight this week after they were mugged at the set-piece by Australia’s “cagey” front row.
England were frustrated at being denied a full-on scrummaging contest as the Wallabies looked to neutralise the superior red rose power.
They did that to great effect. The match was littered with re-sets and Australia managed to snatch two balls against the head.
“We are not running away from the fact that a couple of those scrums were an embarrassment,” said scrum coach Graham Rowntree.
“We have had a long hard look at ourselves this week. Statistically, there are less re-sets with a South African team. Hopefully, we won’t have that frustration this week.”