Jones seeks to complete selection jigsaw during November World Cup “dry run”
LONDON, Nov 2 (Reuters) – Always a man who works to the finest detail, England coach Eddie Jones has lined up his four November opponents to mirror what the team will face – or hope to face – if things go to plan in next year’s Rugby World Cup.
England kick off against Argentina on Sunday, followed by Japan the following Saturday – the two fixtures they will open the tournament with in France next September.
Should England top the group, which also includes Samoa and Chile, they are likely to face either Australia or Wales in the quarter-finals.
Then would come a possible rerun of the 2019 semi against New Zealand, which, if they were to repeat their dream display in Japan, would put them on course for a potential final against South Africa, when they would obviously seek a different outcome.
Consequently, England play the All Blacks – for the first time since that World Cup semi – and Springboks later in November in a mouth-watering Twickenham finale.
It is a daunting month but one that England really need to challenge face on as they seek to build on their excellent series win in Australia following another poor Six Nations campaign.
Despite Argentina’s stunning victory over New Zealand in August, they were unable to sustain any consistency in the Rugby Championship and arrive at Twickenham on the back of 10 successive defeats against England.
Jones will want to deliver a statement performance to set the tone for the month but also to start to finalise some of the selection issues that remain, worryingly for some fans, very much unanswered 10 months out from the World Cup.
Jones seems set on combining Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell at 10 and 12, despite the two not exactly dovetailing in Australia.
Farrell has been in superb form for Saracens this season – but in his preferred position of flyhalf – so the next four weeks should finally convince the coach whether the “two distributors” concept is the way forward.
He is helped, for now, by the presence of Manu Tuilagi. Fit, if not exactly firing for Sale, the wrecking ball centre has been the focal point of some of England’s best performances in recent seasons and if – always a big if with him – he can remain fit, he is probably the first name on the team sheet.
Jones is without a handful of injured potential starters, the most notable being flanker Courtney Lawes, who had been a popular and effective captain after replacing Farrell.
Whether Jones gives the responsibility back to his favourite “test match animal”, or maybe turns to prop Ellis Genge or flanker Tom Curry, will be one of the more interesting aspects of his team announcement on Friday.
His back three selections will also be closely scrutinised, as injuries to Tommy Freeman, Henry Arundel and Jonny May – though included in the squad after a seemingly miraculous recovery from a dislocated elbow – could open the door for Cadan Murley to stake a claim after a spectacular start to the season for Harlequins.