Eddie Jones faces a tough few weeks ahead as his England side face four games against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.
This will be England’s final chance to test themselves against the southern hemisphere before the World Cup in Japan. This year more than the previous years feels particularly important for Eddie Jones’ England.
With a lengthy injury list and only one win in their last six tests (excluding Barbarians match) re-establishing a winning mentality is key.
England are missing Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Ellis Genge, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Dan Robson, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Nathan Hughes, Sam Simmonds, Alex Lozowski, Marland Yarde, Matt Mullan, Beno Obano, Jack Clifford, Nick Isiekwe, Chris Robshaw, Jake Cooper-Wooley, Dan Cole, Jack Willis and Harry Mallinder are all unavailable for at least England’s opener against South Africa.
This puts a lot of pressure on some of England’s experienced stars and this is something that co-captains Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell will have to manage on the field in what is sure to be a physical battle against a reinvigorated South Africa.
England’s back row is of particular concern with the uncapped Zach Mercer expected to make his first start on Saturday alongside the inexperienced Tom Curry, Brad Shields or Mark Wilson.
Not only will this be an experience issue, whilst Zach Mercer is an enthusiastic and entertaining player his frame is far smaller than that of the giant Billy Vunipola, so tactics may have to be adjusted to best utilise the pace and handling of the Bath number eight.
On top of that England are pretty bare in the prop departments down to their fifth choice at loosehead with Exeter duo Alec Hepburn and Ben Moon the options for Saturday. England will also have to make do without Leicester Tigers veteran Dan Cole which will be a considerable hurdle for England as South Africa’s front row will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing an undercooked, less experienced front row in the scrum.
There are some positives for Eddie Jones, Ben Te’o has come through what limited rugby he has played unscathed as has Manu Tuilagi which will provide some much needed size to the midfield.
Chris Ashton is also back in the mix, and no matter what you think about this man’s behaviour off the field he is England’s best finisher even if his celebratory Ash Splash can be infuriating to watch.
England need at least three wins this autumn to be considered a contender a year away from the World Cup Eddie Jones so desperately wants. South Africa at Twickenham is going to a blockbuster test to get England started on the road to Tokyo.
Rugby360’s England XV based on 25-man squad named earlier this week
1 Alec HEPBURN (2) 2 Dylan HARTLEY (CC) (93) 3 Harry WILLIAMS (11)4 Maro ITOJE (28) 5 George KRUIS (25) 6 Brad SHIELDS (2) 7 Tom CURRY (4) 8 Zach MERCER (Uncapped)
9 Ben YOUNGS (77) 10 Owen FARRELL (CC) (61) 11 Jonny MAY (37) 12 Ben TE’O (13) 13 Manu TUILAGI (26) 14 Chris ASHTON (39) 15 Elliot DALY (21)
Italic number in (brackets) denotes caps. Lions tests not included.
(CC) denotes co-captain