England spring surprise with three changes to team for Rugby World Cup semi-final

George Martin is a surprise second row starter for England in their semi-final against South Africa

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Lock George Martin has been handed a surprise starting opportunity in England’s team for the Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa.

22-year-old Martin partners Maro Itoje in the second row, with Ollie Chessum dropped to the bench and Steve Borthwick making two other changes.

Freddie Steward replaces Marcus Smith at full-back, while Joe Marler’s scrummaging expertise preferred to Ellis Genge’s dynamism on the loosehead.

“After an excellent few days preparation in Paris, we look forward to the challenge of playing the World Champions and number one ranked team in the world,” said Borthwick.


“Through this tournament the team has progressed, with the players repeatedly finding a way to win, sometimes in challenging circumstances. We will once again need to be at our very best this weekend as we face an excellent team in South Africa.

“There is no doubt the players will truly relish the challenge of knockout rugby under the lights in Paris. These players will, as they have done in every game of this tournament, give absolutely everything in the semi-final to get the result we want.”

The squad includes 13 survivors from the World Cup final defeat to the Springboks in 2019.

Martin’s elevation comes as a surprise after a strong tournament from the Itoje/Chessum lock partnership, but perhaps reflects a desire from Borthwick to match South Africa’s bench impact with a strogn set of tight five replacements.

The young Leicester lock will also have a key role to play at scrum-time, anchoring behind a front row bolstered at the set-piece by the wily Marler.

The 33-year-old starts opposite fellow veteran Dan Cole, who endured a difficult day in Yokohama four years ago having been required early on after an injury to Kyle Sinckler.

Owen Farrell will again captain England from fly half as he wins a 111th cap.

England team to face South Africa at the Stade de France (Saturday 21 October, kick off 8pm)

1 Joe Marler, 2 Jamie George, 3 Dan Cole; 4 Maro Itoje, 5 George Martin; 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Ben Earl; 9 Alex Mitchell, 10 Owen Farrell; 11 Elliot Daly, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 13 Joe Marchant, Jonny May; 15 Freddie Steward.

Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Ollie Chessum, 20 Billy Vunipola; 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Ollie Lawrence.

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