Bin the sandbagging Eddie, time to let England rip - Andy Goode
England fans have been waiting an age to watch this midfield combination in action and there shouldn’t be any holding back.
This is the first time that Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi have started an international together at 10, 12 and 13, with the Sale man having been named on the wing when they were all in the starting XV against Australia last autumn.
It’s fair to say England have had a poor last couple of years generally, especially in attack, but that is a trio that has the potential to get bums off seats and is one that most outside observers would have been picking for a while had they all been fit.
Eddie Jones has not had that luxury, with Tuilagi absent for large periods and Farrell missing this year’s Six Nations as well, so maybe now is the time for England’s attack to be unleashed with under a year to go until the World Cup.
Results are the main focus for the head coach, of course, but he did hint this week that he may feel just a little responsibility for his side to entertain given the bleak situation in the English club game at the moment, albeit the action on the field in the Premiership has been as good as ever.
For me, one will lead to the other and, although a good kicking game is vital, England need to pose more of a threat if they are to stand any chance of lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy next year, something Jones has made no secret is his primary objective.
The blend of Smith’s capacity to produce moments of magic, Farrell’s nous and reading of the game and Tuilagi’s game-breaking ability provides the best chance of unlocking defences, if they are allowed to play with the shackles off.
It has to be a concern, though, that Jones has been talking in the build-up to this opening Autumn Nations Series game against Argentina about holding back. Presumably, he means tactically ahead of the World Cup next year and perhaps it is setting up a good excuse if things don’t go to plan but it does set alarm bells ringing.
It’s natural to have a few things up your sleeve that you might not want to reveal but rugby is all about momentum and there is a danger that talking about holding back might seep into the players and lead to them playing with the handbrake on as we’ve seen in the past.
England come into this autumn on the back of a series win in Australia, and having completed a clean sweep last autumn, but the last two Six Nations campaigns have been major disappointments.
Outside of hammerings against the likes of Tonga and USA and games against Italy, England have scored just 20 tries in 13 games since the start of last year, which isn’t good enough for a side with the resources and talent at their disposal.
Given the players unavailable and who is in the squad, the team more or less picks itself but it’s great to see Alex Coles and David Ribbans making their debuts and they fully deserve their opportunities.
It’s a sign of how much England have been able to call upon the likes of Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes and Charlie Ewels, the latter two now being injured, that there are two locks winning their first caps this weekend.
Both will have learned a lot from Lawes at club level and fit the mould of player that Jones likes. Itoje starting in the back row is a case of needs must really and it’ll be interesting to see where he packs down at scrum time.
It’s a strong looking Argentina side on paper and it’ll be a physical battle up front as ever, with the always fascinating sideshow of an Eddie Jones v Michael Cheika match-up, but it’s in the backline that we need to see more from England.
They face a tough schedule this autumn with the All Blacks and Springboks looming large but, all things considered, I’m expecting three wins from four. That would constitute success, anything less and questions will be asked.
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