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The Autumn Internationals Preview: England

By Peter Bills
Billy Vunipola

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England Schedule
vs South Africa – Saturday November 12, 10:30pm HKT
vs Fiji – Saturday November 19, 10:30pm HKT
vs Argentina – Saturday November 26, 10:30pm HKT
vs Australia – Saturday December 3, 10:30pm HKT

This time last year England were in the doldrums having been bundled out at the World Cup group stage on their own turf. Then along came Eddie Jones. Under their new coach they’ve won every game this year – can they keep rolling through the Autumn Internationals despite an ever-growing injury list?

What to look out for
A clean-sweep. England have won all nine tests played this year and would love to complete a perfect calendar year after last year’s World Cup debacle. A clean-sweep here would also set them up to challenge New Zealand’s new winning streak record come Six Nations time. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Strengths
Self belief. It ought to be a big factor with nine wins in nine games since Jones took charge. The progress of players like Billy Vunipola, now one of the world’s best No. 8s, his brother Mako, the loose head prop, and young lock Maro Itoje plus inside centre Owen Farrell bode superbly for England’s future. And there is growing strength in depth, too.

Weaknesses
Injuries are threatening to blight Jones’s immediate plans with eight or nine top men missing this autumn programme. There are back-up players but any team would feel the loss of locks George Kruis and Itoje, three or four first choice open-sides and both first choice wings.

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Coaching situation
Eddie Jones has shaken up the whole England scene in the way only an Aussie could. Suddenly, England have won a Grand Slam in the 6 Nations and whitewashed Australia in their own back yard. But more work is needed by specialist coach Paul Gustard on their defence, on the evidence of the Aussie tour in June.

Player to watch
Fijian-born back row man Nathan Hughes sat out last year’s World Cup, preferring to qualify for England. Now the Wasps man is available and a real find. Hughes has presence, big time. He is a powerful ball carrier who makes big yards going forward, ball in hand, and hits hard in defence. Sure to feature at some stage of the Autumn Internationals.

Best chance of an upset
England haven’t beaten South Africa since 2006 – the Springboks winning 11 of the last 12 with one drawn. That run will surely end this weekend. Fiji will entertain but lose, however an improved Argentina may push them hard in a battle of attrition. Probably the Aussies, humiliated by the Poms back in June, will go closest.

Prediction
Four matches, four wins for England – unless the Australians are on a revenge mission.

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