Stuart Lancaster has been predicting for weeks that the England team selected to start the first match of the autumn series, against Fiji on Saturday, would be different from the one that squares up to the All Blacks next month. What he did not expect was to find himself reselecting his side before a ball had been kicked or a pass thrown at Twickenham.
Injuries and suspension mean a number of first-choice players – the wing Chris Ashton, the centre Jonathan Joseph, the prop Alex Corbisiero and the hooker Dylan Hartley – are out of this intriguing set-to with the men from the South Seas, hence the fast-tracking of three uncapped tight forwards in Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs and Joe Launchbury, together with an early recall for the Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples. Youngs and Sharples are likely to start, with the others on the bench.
When Lancaster names his side today, he will have little choice but to reunite Manu Tuilagi of Leicester and Brad Barritt of Saracens in midfield, the most pressing of England's problem areas. Elsewhere, the men who performed so resourcefully in chiselling out a 14-all draw against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth last June deserve to hold their places – most notably the Saracens full-back Alex Goode, the Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care and Exeter's blind-side flanker Tom Johnson, who all face stiff competition for their places.
If Tom Palmer has recovered fully from a minor calf strain, he should start ahead of Launchbury, his partner at Wasps. Launchbury may be a man in a hurry, but he is quite happy to bide his time at the London club, who are slowly recovering from a difficult few years on and off the field. Yesterday, he agreed a contract extension through to the summer of 2015.