Don't bet against another series whitewash down under - Andy Goode
England’s second consecutive poor Six Nations has lowered expectations and meant hardly anyone is predicting a 3-0 whitewash like they achieved in Australia in 2016 but I think lightning might just strike twice.
England will have to start this series a lot better than they did the latest Six Nations where some poor decision-making against Scotland, mainly from the head coach, cost them dearly but Eddie Jones’ team selection for the first Test is certainly an exciting one.
Much of it does pick itself with Jonny May ruled out and the likes of Henry Slade, Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Alex Dombrandt, Sam Simmonds, Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler not on tour but recalls for Billy Vunipola and Danny Care, in particular, suggest Jones has decided to swallow his pride and that can only be a good thing for England.
In the case of the younger Vunipola brother, he has more than earned his selection and Eddie will no doubt claim it as a masterstroke if he excels but who knows if he would’ve been picked had Dombrandt and Simmonds been available.
Care’s call-up is far more significant, though, as we know there was a falling out there and the Harlequins man has been the form scrum half in the Premiership for the past couple of seasons.
This is his first Test for almost four years since the autumn of 2018 against Japan. He scored a try a couple of minutes into that game and if he can inject the kind of pace he does for Quins, whilst also helping Marcus Smith because of the relationship they have at club level, it might just provide the spark that England’s attack has been sadly lacking.
Care’s addition should help and the return of Owen Farrell will add more leadership and nous to the midfield, as well as the other qualities he brings, but Smith has to be allowed to drive the team forwards rather than being asked to fit into a system that doesn’t suit him.
I also like the fact that Farrell hasn’t just been handed the captaincy straight back. He may well get it back during this series or over the course of next season but it’s fair to say he doesn’t have the best relationship with referees and Courtney Lawes has the respect of everyone so it seems to be another smart call from Jones at least in the short term.
There’s also a chance that the England head coach might have taken at least a slightly dim view of Farrell’s decision to go for posts five minutes from the end of the Premiership final. It’s easy to say with hindsight but Saracens should be backing themselves to score a try nine times out of 10 from that position on the field and it was conservative at best.
Joe Cokanasiga is another returning man. He played against USA and Canada last summer but he hasn’t featured since the 2019 World Cup and Jones likes his size, having picked a big team generally.
Australia will look at that and try to keep the ball in hand and move England around with Cokanasiga’s positional ability being tested but they aren’t a team who kick very much at all compared to most international sides so he might not be as exposed in that respect.
He might not be the best in the game defensively but he offers a point of difference and the fact that he’s scored eight tries in his last four Test starts for England tells you he’ll be a threat in attack.
The likes of Fraser Dingwall and Tommy Freeman are a bit unlucky not to make the match day 23 but Guy Porter has just won the Premiership and offers a lot of versatility, while everyone is excited to see what Henry Arundell can do off the bench against a tiring defence.
Clearly, the result of this series is massively important, as it always is, and momentum is a huge factor in sport. England desperately need some of that but we also need to see evidence of how they are trying to play in attack after scoring just eight tries in five games during the Six Nations.
Australia’s front five isn’t the strongest or most experienced and, of course, England are going to take them on up front but Smith needs to be given the freedom to play his own game and exploit the spaces off the back of that.
The talent is there to win this series 3-0 and if England can get off to a winning start this weekend, even if they have to grind it out, we might just see the more expansive attacking game that Eddie has been promising finally delivered on the hard, flat tracks down under.
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