England’s emphatic win over Tonga has given Eddie Jones a number of selection headaches ahead of England v Australia on Saturday.
Every coach wants options but for Jones, he may have to make the biggest selection call of his England coaching tenure. Does he relegate Owen Farell now and promote Marcus Smith? The clamour to include Marcus Smith as the man to lead England’s backline grows ever stronger. Smith came on for the impressive George Furbank and tore a tiring Tonga to shreds.
If the selection headache started with Owen Farrell, then given the ‘man of the match’ performance of Henry Slade and an impressive return by Manu Tuilagi, who does Jones leave out against the Wallabies?
Smith’s goalkicking only doubt ahead of England v Australia
The answer potentially lies in Marcus Smith’s unproven goal kicking on the international stage. Henry Slade is not a frontline place-kicker as shown against Tonga.
One of the many strings to Owen Farrell’s bow is his ability to kick consistently well in the biggest matches. That is likely to keep Farrell at ten on Saturday, inside Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi. Fans will understandably argue that Smith needs a chance to establish himself in the starting lineup.
Farrell was proven Covid-free and will be chomping at the bit to launch himself on the Autumn Internationals against the Wallabies. His pedigree at this level is undisputed but, Farrell will know that Smith is hot on his heels. Jones has no problem going against most people’s wishes and will likely pick Farrell as captain and fly-half on Saturday.
Matt Dawson, England’s 2003 World Cup-winning scrumhalf suggested that Farrell’s predictability will help the Wallabies counter England’s attacking threat. It is a viable comment given how free England looked when first Furbank and then Smith launched England’s backline.
The only question mark on Marcus Smith is whether Smith can kick the goals when the pressure is on. We have seen Farrell do it time and again. Yet what Smith may lack in the percentages he more than makes up with his attacking threat.
It should be noted that Tonga’ defence was poor but that was because England’s forwards softened them up in the first half and took their legs away. It was an excellent England performance all round.
Adam Radwan and Freddie Steward excite
How refreshing it was to see two young guns in Freddie Steward and Adam Radwan step up at international level. Radwan has a long way to go before comparisons between him and Cheslin Kolbe become real. But, he is lethal when put in space.
Watching Adam Radwan rip past Tongan defenders was like watching Jason Robinson in his pomp. The Wallabies will test him out in the air and in defence but England has unearthed a beauty in Radwan.
The same can be said for Freddie Steward. The Leicester full-back is such a presence at number 15 and he looked completely at home against Tonga. Like with Radwan, Australia will put more pressure on him but Steward has the tools to make the full-back jersey his own.
Old boys roll their sleeves up
Eddie Jones would have been delighted by the performances of new captain Courtney Lawes and Henry Slade. He would have also been pleased with some ‘old boys’ in Jamie George and Ben Youngs returning to form. There is so much talent to get excited by with this England set-up but you need the experience to complement the youthful enthusiasm.
Lawes’s first-half cover tackle on the flying Telusa Veainu was magnificent. Lawes’s battle-hardened body had no right to stop Veainu, and his leadership qualities and credentials were evident; should Farrell not find a place in the team facing the Wallabies.
Henry Slade was under fire for his inconsistent performances over the last twelve months but, he was back to his silky best against Tonga. When Slade has time and space, he is such a threat and he clearly enjoys having Tuilagi beside him. This is another indicator that may see Smith bide his time on the bench [given the Farrell, Slade and Tuilagi axis].
It has been said before – when Manu Tuilagi is fit and on form, he is the fulcrum to allow England to attack.
Dombrandt in for Underhill, Jones likely to pick Farrell
Alex Dombrandt was busy and useful when coming on for the injured Sam Underhill. Like Marcus Smith, Dombrandt is most people’s favourite to take the England number eight jumper. Apart from passing when it was easier to score, Dombrandt did the basics well against Tonga.
He is such a clever rugby player with a great feel for the game and if Underhill isn’t fit then surely Dombrandt gets his chance.
Regardless of whether Dombrandt and Smith start over the next two weekends, England has real firepower at their disposal right across the board.
Eddie Jones will likely retain Farrell as flyhalf for England v Australia, and keep Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi in the centres. In saying that, the England coach does like to do the opposite of what people often think he should do. Although this week – and the demands which might be placed on the younger player’s shoulders – that seems unlikely. Farrell is by no means done as captain or starter but he no longer has the benefit of playing himself back to form.
Farrell has been off his game for a while now (when in an England jersey). If selected, he needs to play well against the Australians to dissuade any doubters.
The Wallabies could consider themselves unlucky with some of the refereeing decisions in their loss against Scotland. They were not far off and are greatly improved under Dave Rennie. For all of England’s attacking intent and positivity against Tonga, England v Australia is always a major step up.
For now, all eyes will be on who Eddie Jones selects at flyhalf when he announces the team on Thursday.
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