England conclude their 2018 autumn series when Australia visit Twickenham on Saturday.
Here, Press Association Sport examines five talking points heading into the Cook Cup showdown.
Eddie Jones described it as a tactical selection tailored to the gameplan expected from Australia, but Jamie George’s ousting of Dylan Hartley for the first time against major opposition still points to a changing of the guard. George has perennially served as Hartley’s understudy, but now it is the squad’s co-captain who must reinforce England from the bench.
The saga of Manu Tuilagi’s fitness has played throughout the autumn series and England are willing it to reach a scripted conclusion at Twickenham on Saturday when it is hoped he will win his first cap for two years. A groin strain forced him to withdraw from the bench against South Africa and the wrecking-ball centre has spent the intervening weeks overcoming the latest setback in an injury-ravaged career.
If he does get on to the pitch, Tuilagi will feature among England’s gain-line busting Pacific Islands quartet that also includes Joe Cokanasiga, Nathan Hughes and Ben Te’o. Cokanasiga and Te’o will act as the battering rams in the starting XV while Tuilagi and Hughes are expected to provide extra muscle in the final quarter. Jones has noted the game’s ever-growing reliance on power and reacted accordingly.
A year of two halves
The wheels came off the Jones juggernaut in dramatic fashion during the Six Nations, three losses in the second half of the tournament condemning England to their worst performance since the dark days of the 1980s. A 2-1 series defeat in South Africa followed, but this autumn Jones’ authority has been restored by wins against the Springboks and Japan and a controversial 16-15 loss to New Zealand. Doubts over the Australian’s future have been dispelled and it is now full steam ahead for the World Cup.
The pressure on Michael Cheika continues to build, however, as the Wallabies limp to the end of their season bereft of confidence following a run of only four wins in 12 matches. It has been claimed that Cheika would have been sacked by now if his cash-strapped union could afford to do so and it is hard to recall a less potent Australia team. History shows, however, that come the World Cup they will transform into credible contenders.