England’s tour to Australia in the summer takes on huge significance after another disappointing Six Nations campaign. England’s record away from Twickenham over the last couple of years has been poor and three Test matches in Australia may not improve it. We should add here that the unforgettable 3-0 series win in 2016 was one of Eddie Jones’ greatest achievements. On top of Jones’ growing list of improvements to be made will be his selection. The centres, wing and scrum-half are positions that are open. Much has been said about England’s reliance on Manu Tuilagi and his constant injury problems but if fit he must play. Charlie Inglefield assesses a potential starting XV for the first Test in Perth on 2 July.
Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade should start
It is likely that Owen Farrell will return to inside centre to help out Marcus Smith. It is an understandable selection as Owen Farrell is a Test match animal and his experience is much needed. England cannot afford to rest players this summer and therefore they need to go to Australia with their strongest starting line-up. The catch is that you have Marcus Smith, Manu Tuilagi, Henry Slade and Owen Farrell vying for three positions. The potentially unlucky Joe Marchant might be in there as well and we assume that Gloucester’s Mark Atkinson is now out of the picture. There is a for and against on who to pick besides Marcus Smith and Henry Slade.
If Eddie Jones goes with Farrell to partner Marcus Smith the defence and strategic nous will undoubtedly strengthen England. Marcus Smith had to tackle a lot, particularly against Wales and Ireland. Ideally, Eddie Jones wants Smith to do what he does best which is to attack the opposition. Farrell loves the physical and can take the pressure off Smith defensively. Add in Farrell’s vast experience, leadership and the argument to include him is a very strong one.
On the flip-side, Tuilagi just makes England so strong out wide. It’s not just his physical experience, it is also his ability to give Henry Slade that inch or two more space to work in. It will also mean Slade switching back to this favoured outside centre position. Every England fan wants to see Henry Slade excel on the international stage. He has all the tools to be a world-class outside centre. Slade had an outstanding 2019 Six Nations but since then he has struggled for consistency. Australia may be his last chance alongside Owen Farrell or Manu Tuilagi.
There is no doubt that the constant run of injuries is limiting Tuilagi’s impact to stay at the top. But do not doubt his ability to still turn it on. His attention to detail in rehab and looking after himself has improved immeasurably with age. When he has returned after a long stint on the sidelines Tuilagi has not missed a beat.
There won’t be many times that the huge Harlequin centre Andre Esterhuizen is cut in half but that is precisely what Tuilagi did to him in the recent Harlequins/Sale match. Saracens’ Ben Earl also felt the full force of Tuilagi last week after another return from injury. Against Australia England will probably face Len Ikitau and Hunter Paisami in the centres. They love to hit hard and England will need someone like Tuilagi to even it up on the physicality stakes.
I would like to see Eddie Jones go with Marcus Smith, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade – with Owen Farrell on the bench. The fast-running tracks that Australia produces might just give Henry Slade the chance to unleash and he shades Farrell out as the playmaker to support Marcus Smith. England tend to win more often than not with Tuilagi starting but the same can also be said of Farrell. It will be interesting to see whether Jones picks Tuilagi and what role Farrell plays with his England team.
Jonny May and Adam Radwan to start on the wings
There is a long list of experienced players coming back from injury which will make Eddie Jones’ selection over the next 18 months even more challenging. England’s back-three during the Six Nations failed to fire but through no fault of their own. There were few opportunities for the likes of Jack Nowell and Max Malins. Malins for all of his versatility and talent does not have the searing pace to finish chances on the international stage. That is why Jonny May is primed to come back – if he is fit. May, like a few of the 2019 contingent, has struggled for consistency but his pace and try-scoring should not be ignored.
Anthony Watson who has endured a shocking run of serious injuries will hopefully get back from his latest setback. Watson in full flight is a sight to behold as his experience like May. It is unlikely Watson will get back in time for the tour to Australia. Therefore it would be exciting to see Adam Radwan, discarded after a decent hit out against Tonga last autumn, given another chance. A back three of Steward, May and Radwan has its strengths. England need finishers and in May and Radwan, they have that in abundance.
Starting XV for the first Test
Jones may opt to give the likes of Tom Curry and Courtney Lawes a rest after their British Lions exploits last summer. However, with so few games left to hone in on a settled squad let alone starting fifteen, Jones is unlikely to rest many. The time to bring more youngsters in is probably over, especially with the artillery of Farrell, May and Watson coming back.
Positionally, Courtney Lawes partnering Maro Itoje in the second row gives England extra grunt in the front five. It also allows Sam Underhill, who has been excellent upon his return to Bath and England, and Tom Curry to link up again. Alex Dombrandt should be England’s starting number 8 with Sam Simmonds providing the x-factor off the bench. Another position of contention is at scrum-half. Raffi Quirke is back for Sale and he should be considered alongside Harry Randall. Will Eddie Jones persist with Ben Youngs or give one of Randall and Quirke a chance in Australia?
We know that Eddie Jones will continue to pull surprises with his selection. Therefore below is a starting fifteen against Australia in Perth on 2 July which this scribe would like to see.
Courtney Lawes (c)
Replacements: Joe Marler, Jamie Blamire (if Luke Cowan-Dickie is not fit), Will Stuart, Nick Isiekwe, Sam Simmonds, Harry Randall, Owen Farrell.
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