England will face Argentina, Australia, and Samoa this autumnDIALLO 25

This weekend England kick-off their autumn schedule against Argentina, before games against Australia and Samoa. Given their World Cup ambitions, and their ranking as the second-best team in the world, the score-card should read 3-0 come November 25th. But, with a host of injuries and the promise of rest for Lions players, England will have to be on their mettle to stay unbeaten.

The match against Australia is undoubtedly the highlight, particularly after they recently beat the All Blacks, while the other two fixtures will be undoubtedly physical. Argentina have been disappointing, and Samoa’s off-field problems well-documented, but England will not be taking them for granted.

This autumn, however, is Eddie Jones’ last real opportunity to ‘tinker’, as he works out who will make the final 25% of his World Cup squad, and to test the depth in various positions. There’ll be some experimenting against Argentina, and even more against Samoa, but against Australia, expect to see England’s first-choice (available) 23.

He named a 35-man squad for a week’s training camp in Portugal but has announced 26 players ahead of this weekend.

Here’s who I would pick to face Argentina:

Loosehead Prop: Mako Vunipola

After a storming Lions tour, and Joe Marler’s ban, Mako is England’s No.1 in both senses. Though he’ll be rested against Samoa, the Argentina game will give Eddie’s first-choice front-row some game-time, having not played together since the Six Nations. I’d unleash Ellis Genge from the bench, then start him against Samoa.

Hooker: Dylan Hartley (Captain)

There’s much debate over whether Dylan Hartley deserves to start ahead of Jamie George, but Hartley starts for me, as hooker and captain for all three tests. Harsh on George, but he’ll have impact from the bench, whilst Bath’s Tom Dunn could take this role for Samoa.

Tighthead Prop: Dan Cole

Another Lion who will have to wait for his rest. Part of England’s first-choice front-row and at his best this year, so starts the first two, for me. With the explosive Kyle Sinckler also banned, Exeter’s impressive Harry Williams will be on the bench, before starting against Samoa.

Lock: Joe Launchbury

Lock is probably England’s most competitive position, with four stellar options in Launchbury, Itoje, Kruis and Lawes. Expect to see some tinkering but, for this game, I’d rest Itoje and start Launchbury, who was class in Argentina this summer.

Lock: George Kruis

Alongside him, I’d give Kruis a chance to prove himself internationally, after he was dropped from the Lions Test side. He and Maro would be my first-choice combination, so would start against the Wallabies, whilst young Charlie Ewels and Nick Isiekwe go against Samoa. Courtney Lawes is in the form of his life, and would be on my bench for Argentina. He’ll be pushing to start at Lock or 6 against Australia.

Blind-side Flanker: Chris Robshaw

The back-row is yet another area where Jones is spoilt for choice – so much so that he can afford to leave out 75-cap James Haskell. With the inexperienced Nathan Hughes at 8 and a rookie likely at 7, Robshaw will be an important old head. He’ll be pushed by Lawes, and may even find himself at 7 later in the series, but I’d start him for now.

Open-side Flanker: Sam Underhill

There has been so much hype about the Bath man, and now is his time to show what he’s about. Play well, and he could make the 7 jersey his own, though he’ll have to do very well to stay ahead of 20-year-old Tom Curry who I thought was outstanding in Argentina. I expect both to be given at least one start this month. Then there’s Sam Simmonds, who’s been tearing it up for Exeter. He plays across the back-row, but Jones sees him as a 7. I’d stick him on the bench and find out if he can hack it on the big stage.

Number Eight: Nathan Hughes

With Billy Vunipola and Jack Clifford out injured, England will be mightily relieved Hughes was not banned for longer. In great form for Wasps, he’ll start every game this month. Simmonds might be used off the bench. 

England drew in their last encounter with ArgentinaEngland Rugby

Scrum-half: Ben Youngs

Having missed the summer tours for family reasons, this is the perfect game for England to welcome one of their stalwarts back. Danny Care was awesome in Argentina, but will probably be on the bench until Samoa. Jones has only named two scrum-halves at this point, which I find strange given the depth he has developed in other positions. This would have been the perfect opportunity to bring in Wasps’ Dan Robson.

Fly-half: George Ford

Owen Farrell is a world-class fly-half, but the Lions showed this summer that having a second playmaker is the way to beat the All Blacks. Besides, Ford shone in Argentina and is playing well for Leicester, so more than earns his place. His relationship with club-mate Youngs will also be key. On the bench, it’ll be Saracens’ Alex Lozowski or Northampton’s Piers Francis to cover fly-half/centre. I’d like to see Lozowski start against Samoa.

Left Wing: Jonny May

Out wide, availability is unclear. It was thought Jack Nowell would be joined on the side-lines by Elliot Daly and Jonny May, but both are in the wider squad for this week. If fit, May will start, having scored 10 tries in 9 games this season, and Jones wants to rest his Lions a bit. If they don’t make it, Anthony Watson will fill in.

Inside Centre: Owen Farrell

Undoubtedly England’s best back, Farrell must play in any England first XV. His goal-kicking is unparalleled, distribution improving and game management second-to-none. I’d start him against Argentina, to re-ignite his relationship with Ford, and to see how they operate with Slade outside them. Off the bench, and for the Samoa game, I’d like to see Piers Francis at 12 after a great showing this summer.

Outside Centre: Henry Slade

Slade impressed at 13 in Argentina, and has continued his form there for Exeter. Jonathon Joseph is tried and tested, and a certain for the World Cup squad, so now – with still no Manu Tuilagi – it’s Slade’s chance. Joseph may well appear on the bench later.

Right Wing: Anthony Watson

I was surprised to see Solomona omitted for this week, as I had him down to feature in every game this autumn, particularly after his wrecking-ball try from 50 metres against Argentina in the summer. I still think he could add something special to England, but Semesa Rokoduguni takes his place despite originally having been left out altogether. Roko has been questioned defensively at the highest level, so Watson is your man until Samoa.

Fullback: Elliot Daly

I really hope Daly and May are fit, so England can try a new fullback. Watson plays 15 for Bath so he could play there, but with he and May on the wings, Daly gets my pick. His fantastic kicking game and serious wheels could add a lot, though he’d be tested under the high ball. Mike Brown played some of his best rugby in Argentina, and brings the grizzly edge Jones loves, so would rightly feel aggrieved.

Jamie George

Ellis Genge

Harry Williams

Courtney Lawes

Tom Curry

Danny Care

Alex Lozowski

Mike Brown

Whether England will have a fully fit squad come Saturday is highly doubtful but, whatever team Eddie puts out, it’s bound to be a good one. England to win by 15.

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