England begin a new phase in preparation for the 2023 Rugby World Cup against Tonga on Saturday, and head coach Eddie Jones wants his side to entertain Twickenham like never before
England are under some pressure to perform after this year’s dismal fifth-place finish in the Six Nations, equalling their worst result in the competition.
But head coach Eddie Jones is after more than mere results as he looks to optimise a new-look squad, signalling his intent to ensure England are “more aggressive” in their efforts to return to rugby’s peak.
He spoke earlier in the week of how he was eager to avoid a repeat of the Mexican waves witnessed at Murrayfield when Scotland throttled Tonga 60-14 last Saturday.
The Twickenham visitors will be bolstered by a number of newly available players when they face England, but Jones is up for the challenge.
“We want to be more aggressive with the ball,” said the tactician in regards to his hopes of making England more effective in attack.
“That is what we have worked out that we need to do – from lineout and kick return particularly. They are our two most common sources of possession.
“We are looking to be aggressive, looking to attack the space wherever the space is. We’ve got a framework for the players to attack but the main thing is the aggressiveness to get on the front foot and taking advantage of the faster ruck ball early in the phase.”
The 30-year-old fly-half could still be available for the match pending the results of PCR and lateral flow tests later on Friday, while the rest of England’s staff and players have tested negative.
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Forwards coach Richard Cockerill also teased the possibility of Northampton Saints full-back George Furbank playing fly-half.
“He’s played there before for his club,” Cockerill said at a press conference on Friday. “He’s a very talented player, great instincts. I think he would take it in his stride.”
The sudden doubt regarding Farrell’s availability highlights the importance of a common identity, not reliant on any one player for the team to perform to its fullest.
That being said, many would agree 22-year-old Smith has shown at club level that he could be the man to squeeze the most out of England’s attacking potential.
A centre partnership involving the recalled Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade is also cause for excitement, with the pair having performed well as a midfield tandem in the past.
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After playing a key role in Quins’ Premiership title-winning campaign last season, Smith has made it clear he’s a rare talent, though a leg injury could prevent him from starting even if Farrell is ruled out.
Saturday will be the first time Twickenham has hosted a capacity crowd since before the global pandemic, which Jones considers all the more reason to put on a show.
“The challenges for the young players playing this Test match are enormous,” the head coach said.
“A lot of them haven’t played in front of a full house for their club and now they are going to play in front of 82,000 people against a Tongan side that hits harder than any team in the world.
“It’s been a really positive two weeks. We are not going to be the perfect finished [article] on Saturday but we are going to play with a lot of intensity and physicality, and we want to keep those at Twickenham glued to the edge of their seat.”
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Despite the pre-autumn forecasts that November could signal a complete overhaul of the England team given certain absences, Jones has fielded a largely familiar XV against Tonga.
Former England and Leicester flanker Tom Croft called it “a bit disrespectful” to treat Tonga as a chance to experiment.
Jones will already be considered by some to be one of England’s best coaches, but as he begins the final phase of his tenure in the job, ensuring the fans get their money’s worth appears a new top priority.
Freddie Steward; Adam Radwan, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (c), Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry
Telusa Veainu; Walter Fifita, Mali Hingano, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Solomone Kata; Kurt Morath, Sonatane Takulua (c); Siegfried Fisiihoi, Paul Ngauamo, Ben Tameifuna, Leva Fifita, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Lopeti Timani, Mateaki Kafatolu, Sione Vailanu