England open their Autumn Nations Cup against Georgia at Twickenham on Saturday as they look to build on their recent Six Nations success.
Here, the PA news agency examines five talking points ahead of the match.
A star is born
Jack Willis’ debut is one of the easier selection decisions made by Eddie Jones. The Wasps flanker is a force of nature at the breakdown, an unrivalled poacher of opposition ball to the extent he was named Rugby Players’ Association and Premiership player of the year for 2019-20. Apart from the obvious courage it takes to contest for the ball, Willis is blessed with the flexibility to get into awkward positions and the strength to ride the hits as they land. Still only 23, a stellar future awaits.
Riches at openside
Willis is the latest in a succession of outstanding opensides to appear from the Premiership conveyor belt. For years England relied on six-and-a-halves to get the job done, but the emergence of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill changed the dynamic of their back row. Curry and Underhill are class acts, while snapping at their heels for the past nine months is the marauding Ben Earl. With Willis joining their ranks, Jones is spoilt for choice.
Administrators deserve huge credit for setting up a tournament amid the dire circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. With the southern hemisphere giants forced to cancel their customary end-of-year tours, a void was created in the rugby calendar with the Autumn Nations Cup devised as an emergency alternative. The staging of any internationals at all is to be applauded, but there is no escaping the fact that a contrived format of the Six Nations plus Fiji and Georgia is no substitute for collisions with New Zealand and South Africa.
Are you not entertained
Jones rejects the idea that England must not only win, but also serve up spectacle at a time when the game is contending with a financial crisis caused by Covid-19. Rugby is battling for its place in the sporting landscape and the final round of Six Nations fixtures staged a fortnight ago will have attracted few new fans. With no supporters present to supply noise and colour, the poor quality of the matches was emphasised. It will be Amazon Prime Video’s first venture into rugby and a grinding win will do little to engage audiences at home.
David v Goliath
Some bookmakers are offering 150/1 that Georgia can stage one of the biggest upsets in rugby history at Twickenham on Saturday, but even those odds fail to reflect the size of the task ahead of them. The world’s 12th ranked team have defeated a tier-one nation only once in 31 previous attempts, and that was against Japan who were only elevated to the top table in May. They will be tough and confrontational and will ask questions up front, especially in the scrum where they could cause problems, but anything other than a resounding England victory will be a bad day at the office.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now