Given the short timescale England have to turn around their Barbarian mauling into lessons learned for both selection and tactics, Eddie Jones is likely to go with a team of tried and trusted but with a little seasoning from a couple of the more effective players from last weekend’s match.
Courtney Lawes is his biggest headache; Lawes professes he much prefers to play on the flank and at times, scrum coaches have suggested that his power in the set-piece is not up to the level of others, but given his performance against Ireland behind Ellis Genge, that point now seems to be at odds with reality.
The simple question is, does Jones need a big lump in the second-row or another flyer in the back-row? Normally, in the context of Australia, you’d opt for the latter, but the Wallaby Class of 2021 suggested their scrummaging has improved quantumly and that they’ll look to build upon that this season.
Jack Willis should start
Lawes at lock allows Jack Willis to step into the back-row – easily England‘s most broadly skilled flanker and a man with a nose for the try-line. Sure, Jones might argue Sam Underhill’s perceived physicality could do a job on Quade Cooper’s freedom at 10, but given the Bath flanker’s recent performances, there’s little doubt that Willis offers more, especially given that Billy Vunipola is likely to start at number eight, leaving a requirement for lineout options at six, both of which Tom Curry and Willis offer.
In the back three, Jonny May and Freddie Steward were both dead set certainties to start, leaving one wing space open and a straight shootout between Joe Cokanasiga, Tommy Freeman and Jack Nowell. However, with May testing positive for Covid-19, his place is in doubt and we expect to see Nowell and Freeman start if May fails to meet the fitness requirements. Given the strength of the Aussie kick and chase game and the pace with which they attack the tramlines, Freeman is almost certain to get the nod, with an additional caveat that Cokanasiga off the bench adds a hell of a lot of value.
Midfield picks itself, with Danny Care slated to start his first Test since the November game against Japan in 2018, and with Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell looking to forge a compelling understanding in midfield and to design the little half chances that the likes of May and Joe Marchant habitually turn into tries.
In the front-row, it’s still a toss up between Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie and the final selection will boil down to fitness and sharpness, given that George has played two big matches in two weekends, but Cowan-Dickie is short of game time. And, noting Australia’s improved scrummage, it might just be that Will Stuart is the man for the plan with Joe Heyes on the bench to add momentum.
This is not a game that Jones can even come close to losing. An eight-match unbeaten run against Australia combined with a need to right the woes of a dismal 2022 to date will see him select hard for the first Test.
Possible England team: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Tommy Freeman, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Bevan Rodd, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Fraser Dingwall, 23 Joe Cokanasiga