Eddie Jones has made what are considered to be some big calls with George Ford and Joe Marler both relegated to the bench after being in from the start and bang in form since the warm-ups. Owen Farrell is back to out-half, Tuilagi shuffles in one position to 12 and Henry Slade is back at 13 – a position in which he hasn’t started an international match since the Six Nations brilliant farce vs Scotland. Jones is clearly worried about the carrying of Kerevi and didn’t fancy the big Wallaby centre careering down Ford’s channel like a thermonuclear traction engine in the first half – best to remove the Leicester man and save him and his body for later.
That’s probably part of it, but my reckoning is that Eddie is as concerned about what young Petaia, Beale joining the line from fullback and Koroibete may do wider out. Tuilagi has many (often brutal) strengths, but defending the 13 channel against an attack as inventive and mobile as Australia’s is not one of them. Slade, with his extra pace both in his feet and head, is tailor-made for such a job.
It has not escaped notice that Jones’s forward selection is largely a repeat of the victory in Dublin back in January, when the England pack ground Ireland to a fine paste in tight and in the carry, kicked from hand beautifully and had the game pretty much won after 65 mins. Expect the same approach here.
Michael Cheika has seen his side not exactly fire in the tournament yet, but unlike England the Wallabies do have a proper hit out vs Wales under their belt. It was a loss, sure, but they can look at the game and believe there was enough there to know they could have won it, and that they roared back after a poor start. They must not allow such a start here, given England’s bench contains all spoiling forwards then the men in gold are ill advised to be behind by a few with 20 minutes to go. I don’t fancy them getting enough ball – or certainly enough good ball – to come back, so Cheika’s focus must be on being ahead at the half and if they put pressure on the sometimes flaky kicking of Ben Youngs, that could be the key to it all.
England: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (captain), Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz, George Ford, Jonathan Joseph.
Australia: Kurtley Beale; Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete; Christian Lealiifano, Will Genia; Scott Sio, Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa, Izack Rodda, Rory Arnold, David Pocock, Michael Hooper (captain), Isi Naisarani.
Replacements: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Nic White, Matt Toomua, James O’Connor.