Predicting England's Team to Face Australia
England head coach Stuart Lancaster has some key decisions to make ahead of his side's first Test of the autumn.
Australia are coming off the back of a miserable time in the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Tests while this is England's first real outing since the hammering they took in Wales and the end of the Six Nations.
Lancaster, with the World Cup looming on the horizon, has to contend with injuries to a number of key players, so this is an examination of England's strength in depth.
With five players in this predicted lineup gaining Lions Test experience in the summer, there is no shortage of quality. Lancaster's task is to form them into a unit capable of replicating their thrilling win over New Zealand this time last year.
Check out the slide show to see which XV I think Lancaster will pick.
The Back Three
15. Ben Foden, Northampton
Foden has been playing well so far this season and has never let England down. He was on the end of well-worked try against the Ospreys last weekend and has given the coaches plenty of food for thought when choosing between himself and Alex Goode. With Goode being packed back off to Saracens for their Premiership clash with Foden’s club mates on Saturday, you wonder whether Foden has edged back in front of his rival in Lancaster’s thinking.
14. Chris Ashton, Saracens
Ashton’s hunger seems to have returned this season after a dry spell in the white of England. His ability to hunt infield is a hallmark of England’s attacking strategy, and there are few better at it than the Saracens man when on form. He could benefit from the inclusion of his club mate Joel Tomkins.
11. Marland Yarde, London Irish
The Exiles livewire made a big impression on the England coaches in the summer with two tries on his debut against Argentina in Buenos Aires. He has been retained in the England camp rather than being sent back to his club for the weekend’s Premiership fixtures, which suggests Yarde could be in line for a home debut at Twickenham against the Aussies.
12. Billy Twelvetrees, Gloucester
It’s probably a little unfair to suggest the Gloucester man is the last No. 12 standing and therefore has to start, but it’s partly true. Brad Barritt’s injury gives Twelvetrees the chance to pick up where he left off on the tour of Argentina. He also offers another goal-kicking option, possibly with a longer range than Owen Farrell.
13. Joel Tomkins, Saracens
This would appear to be the toughest spot to fill for Lancaster at present. His options are Tomkins, Henry Trinder or Luther Burrell. With Tomkins possessing the most subtlety of the three and offering the tantalizing prospect of bringing a higher-quality offloading game to the table, Lancaster must be leaning towards the rugby league convert. Burrell has already been dispatched back to his club.
9. Ben Youngs, Leicester
Another test Lion who has continued to do all the right things. In the shootout between Youngs and Danny Care for this shirt, it’s the Leicester man you feel Lancaster has more faith in to manage the game from the first whistle, with Care capable of producing that X-factor moment in the more disjointed last quarter of the game. Care has been released back to Quins this weekend, which suggests the bench for hm against the Wallabies.
10. Owen Farrell, Saracens
Farrell is probably one of the first names on the team sheet. He impressed senior members of the Lions squad with is maturity and now pilots Saracens through games like an old stager. Farrell should only get better and, despite the good early-season form of Toby Flood and George Ford, Farrell seems the man they all have to dislodge.
The Back Row
6. Tom Wood, Northampton
The debate over whether Wood should wrestle the captaincy from Chris Robshaw raged, but following a strong previous season and a fine tour of Argentina while Robshaw rested, it’s better to leave the form horse just to do his thing.
7. Chris Robshaw, Harlequins (Captain)
Quins might be suffering at present, but their skipper has done nothing wrong. Lancaster is right to give Robshaw the chance to build on his impressive start as England captain and continue to lead by deed rather than tub-thumping speeches.
8. Billy Vunipola, Saracens
The move to Saracens has seen Vunipola's impact on games increase further, and you suspect Lancaster will give him a chance in at least one of the three internationals this year. Ben Morgan is a great option to have coming off the bench, but then again so is Vunipola. This could come down to a toss of a coin.
4. Geoff Parling, Leicester
The leader of the lineout and a man whose stock rose considerably during his summer with the Lions. Parling’s work in defence and at the breakdown is also outstanding. He has to be nailed on.
5. Courtney Lawes, Northampton
In what appears to be a straight fight between Lawes and Joe Launchbury, the form guide should point Lancaster in the Northampton man’s direction. An astonishing 20 tackles from Lawes and imperious work in the lineout against the Ospreys in the Heineken Cup have put him in the box seat.
1. Mako Vunipola, Saracens
The loosehead was outstanding in the open spaces, but a little creaky in the scrum during the Lions tour, but his form is good in the early part of the season and in the absence of the injured Alex Corbisero, Vunipola is the next cab off the rank for the No. 1 shirt. His main rival, Joe Marler, is part of a Harlequins side enduring a miserable time of it at present.
2. Tom Youngs, Leicester
Youngs was the man in possession at the end of last season and had a solid Lions tour. Despite an impressive start to the season from Dylan Hartley, you would expect Lancaster to stick with the Leicester man and use Hartley off the bench in the last 20 minutes.
3. Dan Cole, Leicester
On the evidence of the first few weeks of the season there is a strong case for Matt Stevens to start for England, but you suspect the Tigers tighthead will get the nod following on from last season.