England looking push on during Autumn Internationals

Written by James Price

The autumn internationals are the ultimate test for Northern Hemisphere sides wanting to gauge just where they stand in comparison to their counterparts south of the equator.

twickenham
The venue of England's three tests. Photo: cmakin (via Flickr)

They provide a launch pad ahead of the Six Nations and an opportunity for the coaches to see who can perform on the international stage against the best in the world.

England start their campaign against Australia on Saturday before tests against Argentina and World Cup holders New Zealand, all at Twickenham.

England need to start nailing down their key combinations, and working out their style of play. The host nation are lucky. There is a lot of choice with a real variety of flavours and strengths. There will be the temptation to try them all, mix them together, shake them up and see what happens.

With a pack that includes Alex Corbisiero or Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs or Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Geoff Parling in the front five, England can mix it with the best in the business and win the ball they need from the set piece.England’s back row is even more impressive. Any three from  Matt Kvesic, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw, Billy Vunipola, Tom Johnson and Tom Wood.  Don’t forget that the dynamic Tom Croft has been ruled out due to injury.

The much talked about issue of captaincy has been settled. The uncertain form of his club side Harlequins had led to speculation that Robshaw may even struggle to reclaim a place in the starting team. Despite this, Robshaw, will lead England out but Lancaster see’s having one captain as old fashioned. The England team has a leadership group of four to five players who will all have a key role to play.

The key to it all is often found in isolating the right ingredients, more often than not outside the half-backs.  With both Ben Youngs and Danny Care, England possess two world class scrum halves that can cause damage on the world stage. If it’s not working for whoever is starting, the other can come on and breathe new life into the side.

At fly half, England have options. Owen Farrell, Freddie Burns and Toby Flood are all excellent players. Farrell who has made such an impression after just one full season of international rugby will start in England’s opening match against Australia.

In terms of the established players in the centres we know a lot already. Manu Tuilagi is a monster of a man, who smashes holes, does not kick, handles OK, hits things and is the gain-line man. Unfortunately for England, he is unavailable through injury.

Brad Barritt will tackle anything and has better hands than most people give him credit for. But it is the newer faces that could prove the most intriguing. For Billy Twelvetrees it is time now to deliver week in week out and nail down the No12 jersey. He is the right size for the modern centre and he offers a second pair of hands distribution-wise outside the fly-half. It could be the making both of him and England.

Kyle Eastmond, however, is the most fascinating of the lot. The Argentina tour was his big break and he took his chance when he made his first England start in the second Test. It was a quality performance. Trinder, Tomkins and Burrell have all been added to the squad for the first time and it will be interesting to see how they fair.

The same goes for England’s choice of wingers. England will want to see Marland Yarde and Christian Wade use their different styles to dominate. Wade will never frighten in the tackle – Shane Williams never did either – but he can learn and adapt to new systems and find ways to fit in. What makes him so exciting is that he can do things few others can. If the team stay confident, and get him the ball, he can be devastating. Let’s not forget about Chris Ashton who is still a quality player despite having a tough season last year.

There are three main faces at full back. Ben Foden has a real chance to put his injuries behind him and get back to being lethal again. With a run of games, he can stop chasing his performance and cut down on his error count, which had become too high. Let’s not forget the impact he made when he first burst onto the international scene with that performance against France.

If he can do that, then he can get the position ahead of the “safer” options of Alex Goode and Mike Brown. England have some outstanding potential and it would be great if the host nation could play in a really threatening style.

Players need to enjoy getting the ball in their hands and to understand the systems and combinations with the rest of the boys in white. The All Blacks do not jump through hoops, they run through patterns and phases. They have the best back line in the world. They kick a lot. They tackle a lot. But when they spot chances, they hunt them in packs of threes and fours. That is why they are the best in the world.

This will be a test for England. Let’s not forget, twelve months ago England steamrolled New Zealand and played out of their skin. They will need to do the same again.

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