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England are heavy odds-on favourites to topple Australia when the rivals meet for the first time since the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup.
Red Rose fans toasted an emphatic win that day and here the PA news agency examines five talking points heading into Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series collision at Twickenham.
Eddie throws a curveball
One of the oldest rivalries returns to Twickenham 🏉
— Autumn Nations Series (@autumnnations) November 11, 2021
Manu Tuilagi is in peak physical shape after a fat loss programme that has seen his waistline shrink but his muscle mass increase and he recently clocked his top speed on GPS tracking. The improved conditioning could not have been better timed, either, as against Australia he starts on the wing for only the second time in his 45-cap career. His previous outing in the position came against New Zealand in 2014 and it was the briefest of experiments as his lack of gas was highlighted during an unsuccessful breakaway try-scoring opportunity. Given the freedom to rampage across Twickenham, his new role generates excitement and nervousness in equal measure.
Next hurdle for Smith’s meteoric rise
With all the focus on the gamble taken on the right wing, Eddie Jones has diverted attention away from Marcus Smith’s presence at fly-half. Only the Australian head coach will know if that is deliberate and given that he has spoken of shielding the 22-year-old who is expected to pull the strings at the 2023 World Cup from hype, the focus on Tuilagi has certainly been convenient. Four caps into his international career and the Wallabies will be the first meaningful opposition Smith has faced, offering a valuable yardstick for his development. So far he has risen to every challenge with distinction and his scriptwriter surely has a compelling plotline in store for Saturday.
A point to prove
Having sat out the autumn opener against Tonga because of a false-positive Covid test, Owen Farrell is now reinstated to the midfield where he will assist Smith with the playmaking duties. England’s captain has his own point to prove after watching his team-mates stage an 11-try demolition of the Islanders as he aims for a return to form that would justify Jones’ unwavering loyalty. Against Tonga the midfield was well balanced but the return of Farrell and switch of Tuilagi to the wing for the Cook Cup clash has made it high on creativity – Henry Slade has kept his place at 13 – but short on firepower. Like never before in his Test career, Farrell must demonstrate his value to the team.
Jones stirs the pot
As an Australian, Jones said he was speaking from a place of insight when he claimed that the country of his birth have an inferiority complex in their relationship with England. He added that Saturday will define the Wallabies’ season, but with it came a warning to his own team that the underdogs “won’t go away at Twickenham”. Jones drew a blunt response from Australia captain Michael Hooper, who stated that “I don’t feel that way”, and the tourists are sure to be riled by mind games that were delivered with good nature but clearly intended to strike a nerve.
📝 ICYMI. Your 23 to run out at Twickenham.
— Wallabies (@wallabies) November 11, 2021
If Australia do have an inferiority complex, it will only have been magnified if they dare to dwell on their record against Jones’ England which now stands an immaculate seven wins. Since putting Stuart Lancaster’s men to the sword at the 2015 World Cup, a result that ushered Jones into Twickenham, the Wallabies have endured some lean years. A five-match winning run in the recent Rugby Championship has generated optimism but influential stars such as Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi are missing from their UK tour and the revival hit the buffers with a narrow defeat to Scotland last Saturday and looks destined to deteriorate further.