Back row bruisers and patience at number 10 – England talking points

England and New Zealand will meet for the 43rd time on Saturday with the All Blacks odd-on favourites to storm Twickenham.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points heading into the match.

All Blacks in town

England celebrate a try
England beat New Zealand at the last World Cup (Ashley Western/PA)

The excitement building into Saturday’s main event of the autumn owes as much to the fixture’s scarcity value as the All Blacks’ ‘aura’. Even on the back of a six-Test winning run New Zealand are not the force of old and they will run out at Twickenham with an air of vulnerability as doubts persist over their head coach Ian Foster and the new generation of players who are filling the boots of superstars. Yet England have played them so infrequently – this will be only their third meeting since 2014 – that it remains a fascinating contest which could have sold out several times over, even with some tickets costing close to £200.

Throwing down the gauntlet

New Zealand perform the Haka
How will England react to the Haka? (David Davies/PA)

How will England face the Haka? Intrigue is heightened in the wake of the 2019 World Cup semi-final when the players formed a V-shape formation to confront the Maori war dance and then proceeded to back up that audacious piece of sporting theatre with one of the greatest displays in English rugby history. The final score read 19-7, but it was a hiding that has haunted the All Blacks ever since. Eddie Jones has hinted that his team might be planning a similar response to the pre-match ritual in the rivals’ first meeting at Twickenham since 2018.

Back row bruisers

Sam Simmonds
Sam Simmonds will start for England (Ben Whitley/PA)

Another week, another selection curve ball from Jones. This time it is the inclusion of two specialist number eights in the same back row with Billy Vunipola and Sam Simmonds providing gainline firepower and breakdown influence at the expense of a third line-out jumper. The two were deployed together in the final quarter of the drubbing of Japan that nudged England’s autumn back on track but given Simmonds has played so rarely at flanker, it is a gamble that comes at a cost to line-out options. Jones wants to take on the All Blacks in the back row in an experiment that could shape his World Cup plans.

Patience at number 10

Jones has acknowledged the malaise affecting Marcus Smith as the 23-year-old fly-half searches for the fireworks that lit up the earlier stage of a Test career that still only numbers 15 caps. “There are tough periods in the game and I haven’t seen a 10 in world rugby not experience it. Marcus understands there are ups and downs,” Jones said when retaining the playmaker against the All Blacks. England are investing heavily in Smith knowing he is a unique talent with the potential to take the World Cup by storm and are willing to give him the time needed to emerge from a dose of second season syndrome.

100 not out

Owen Farrell
Owen Farrell is a key man for England (Ben Whitley/PA)

Owen Farrell will become only the third England player to win 100 caps when he runs out at Twickenham, joining Jason Leonard and Ben Youngs in reaching the milestone. Given his impact on the English game – Jamie George said he is responsible for transforming the nation’s mindset – there are few worthier entrants into the ranks of Test centurions. Since making his debut a decade ago, the 31-year-old has acted as the team’s standard bearer on the field and if Jones’ men are to deliver at the 2023 World Cup they will need their talisman to be firing.