Tyro Tuilagi could be England's World Cup wildcard
The return of Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey to the back division after long absences. Jonny Wilkinson starting at 10 for the first time since Murrayfield 2010.
Matt Stevens back in an England shirt for the first time since his two-year ban for cocaine use.
Lewis Moody’s return as captain after missing the Six Nations with injury. James Haskell starting at number eight.
Tuilagi, 20, who won the Rugby Players’ Association young player of the year award, says he has made his peace with England team-mate Chris Ashton
But Martin Johnson’s decision to hand the 20-year-old centre Manusamoa Tuilagi his Test debut at Twickenham caused such a stir around their Bagshot training base that all these notable occurrences were relegated to mere side-show status.
Tuilagi may have only started 20 games of senior rugby with Leicester, but such has been his impact in those matches and during the last six weeks training with England, that Johnson now has a potential World Cup wildcard on his hands.
To hear Wilkinson, who will win his 86th cap on Saturday as he prepares for his fourth successive World Cup, extolling the virtues of the young player on Thursday was to believe that England have a very special specimen on their hands indeed.
“I have played rugby with Sonny Bill Williams over at Toulon and here with Manu and Matt Banahan, and these guys coming through now are the forces in world rugby,” the World Cup’s record points scorer told BBC Sport.
“Their time is now. It makes you realise that you are just one of the organisers who can conduct everything, but these are the guys that are pushing the boundaries. It is going to be an exciting next five to 10 years for rugby with these guys at the forefront. There are some incredible players out there.”
If Tuilagi’s physical attributes (6ft 1in, 16st 7lb) are not a secret, those who fear a tendency to switch off in some of his defensive duties may be a potential liability will be further encouraged by Wilkinson’s appraisal of a player who has lived in England since he was 13.
“Manu is big, strong and powerful and has the speed and skills to go with it,” Wilkinson added. “Mentally he is incredibly switched on as well.
"He doesn’t lapse in concentration or go missing for a minute. He is there all the time, having an impact on the game with his unique personality.
"He is confident, he looks to be at ease with everything. If you were going to build a rugby player, you would build it like that.”
The game may have changed since Wilkinson was considered the prototype rugby player 10 years ago, but that is still some compliment.
If Tuilagi, who was born in the Samoan village of Fatausi-Fogapoa, lives up to half the hype swirling around in his direction, then England will have cause to thank three local Leicestershire MPs, Edward Garnier, Keith Vaz and Andrew Robathan, for their contribution.
Along with the Tigers, the RFU and a local media and Facebook campaign, the trio successfully fought to overturn a Home Office ruling that Tuilagi, who arrived in the UK on a six-month holiday visa in 2004, should be deported.
While four of his five older brothers have represented Samoa, and Manu recently underwent a 14-hour procedure to have a huge tattoo representing his Samoan heritage applied to his right arm, he has pledged his allegiance to England, and is now firmly in the frame to make his considerable presence felt at the forthcoming global jamboree.
England boss Martin Johnson explains some of his selections to face Wales (UK users only)
With only six of the same starting line-up (Cueto, Banahan, Corbisiero, Hartley, Palmer, Haskell) that began the final game of the Six Nations against Ireland, there is clearly an experimental air – much as Johnson dislikes the concept – to Saturday’s proceedings.
Much interest will also focus on Flutey, back in an England shirt for the first time since March 2010. While Johnson continues to defend the contribution of Shontayne Hape – “you talk to opposition coaches and they know what he does; it may not be eye-catching but it helps you win Test matches” – there was no disguising his enthusiasm over Flutey’s return.
The combination of Flutey’s footwork and vision with Tuilagi’s explosive power and offloading ability in midfield is clearly an enticing prospect.
Johnson also mentioned Flutey’s ability to play at 10, which may spell bad news for Charlie Hodgson’s hopes of travelling as a third fly-half, although the manager was quick to add a rider. “You have to take your best players, not take players because they can cover slots.”
Elsewhere, a strong display by the versatile Armitage, who gets a first start since the end of the 2010 Six Nations, should secure his seat on the plane to New Zealand after spending most of the second half of the season serving two different suspensions.
Haskell, who started his Test career at number eight four years ago, but has subsequently been used at six, and most recently at seven, now has the opportunity to show he can provide a more dynamic alternative to the incumbent Nick Easter.
Simon Shaw, 38 by the time the World Cup kicks off, and the South Africa-born Mouritz Botha, who has “not looked out of place” according to Johnson, look to be in a straight shoot-out if a fourth specialist lock is taken, although that is far from certain.
With Ben Youngs, Chris Ashton and Andrew Sheridan all on the way back from injuries or surgery, Danny Care, Banahan and Alex Corbisiero also have the opportunity to not just cement spots in the squad, but stake claims for a starting berth.
Johnson is in a happy position when he says “we could put out another equally strong 15 who are not playing”.
While many of those will no doubt feature in Cardiff next week, Saturday is the first chance for England fans to see the fruits of the squad’s summer labours.
“You can only keep training on the edge for so long,” Johnson noted. “Now is the time to play.”