After a captivating domestic season, focus now turns to the international game in rugby union, with nations touring the world and continuing their preparations for next year’s World Cup in France. England are touring Australia for the first time since 2016, with a three-test series against their hosts taking place in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, with the chance to lift the newly-renamed Ella-Mobbs Cup at stake.
As part of their build-up to next year’s showpiece event, England head coach Eddie Jones has included a few new names and given recalls to some more experienced faces, mixing his team up as he looks to find the best combinations on the field. This tactical analysis will pick out four names from the confirmed matchday squad for the first test this weekend, providing comment on what they will bring to the team and why their presence could be critical to the tourists’ hopes of taking an early advantage.
The Leicester Tigers full-back has become known over the last 12 months for his dominance when collecting high kicks, and that is something that England will heavily rely on against Australia in order to prevent the Wallabies from making many territorial gains.
What has been really noticeable is that Steward gets airborne when gathering the ball, which is a clever touch as it prevents opponents from making unnecessary contact with him in the air, due to the fact that deliberately taking out a player when they are off the ground is a penalty offence. As a result, Steward always has an extra second to plan his next move, and that could be key against Australia as England look to find gaps in their ranks.
The Tigers star favours passing the ball rather than kicking it when he does have possession, with him kicking 52 times from hand last season but making 75 passes, whilst he also got the better of 41 defenders and made 13 clean breaks, so it is clear that he is a difficult player to stop when he gets going.
As the full-back, and therefore the last line of defence for the tourists, his will also need to be sharp when England don’t have the ball, but his ability to make dominant tackles is just as well-known, with a 78% tackle success rate registered across all English Premiership matches last season. Therefore, England have chosen a full-back that they know will, on paper, control the back field and get on the front foot with the ball, fitting the tactics and matching the mentality that Jones says he wants his side to play with.
Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care is one of those who has been brought back into the international fold this summer, following yet another impressive campaign with the London side, who were knocked out in the Premiership play-offs.
What has been really impressive about Care is his ability to alter what he does from breakdown situations, as he is just as capable at carrying the ball forwards and looking to exploit spaces as he is at passing across multiple distances and finding teammates in different areas of the pitch. Last season he made 103 carries, averaging 5.63m with each one, and 11 clean breaks, whilst he made 1507 passes in total and registered 17 try assists, so this highlights how he can bring different things to the team.
This ability to switch the focus of attack is likely why England have brought him into the team for the first test, as they will be relying on his ball distribution and tactical knowhow to prevent counter-rucks and turnovers and help them to apply pressure on Australia. His half-back partnership with the still young but extremely talented Marcus Smith will also be important in this, as their club bond will ensure that England always have an option available when Care does have possession.
Perhaps the most surprising of Eddie Jones’ decisions ahead of this weekend is to name Owen Farrell in the starting XV, at inside centre, but not to give the Saracens standoff the metaphorical armband. Instead, Northampton Saints lock Courtney Lawes, who skippered the side last Autumn and for part of the 2022 Six Nations campaign, has been given the nod, with Jones perhaps feeling that his leadership in the pack will be decisive when driving forwards and making territorial gains.
No-one can doubt Lawes’ quality on the field, with his reputation as one of the best tacklers in the Premiership over the last few campaigns well-known, and that defensive work will be really important when Australia have the ball. Last season, he made a total of 95 tackles and missed just 10 in the league, giving him a 90% success rate, and that indicates how dominant he is when colliding with opponents. Marry that with his carrying ability, shown by 69 carries at an average of 5.01m for each one last season, and it can be expected that he will lead defensive efforts and constantly make it hard for the hosts to gain ground with their carries.
One of the newer names in the squad is that of Henry Arundell, but the London Irish back’s inclusion is very much deserved when considering his performances last season, particularly in the latter stages of the campaign.
Playing mostly at full-back, but also capable of operating on the wing, he has shown plenty of natural pace and can provide a spark when his team need one. He only scored two tries last season but did beat 20 defenders and make six clean breaks, so his threat in possession is clear to see. He was highlighted as “one to watch” in the 2022 U19 Six Nations tournament and was awarded the Premiership’s young player of the season award for 2021/2022, so his stock has been rising with every appearance he makes.
Whilst he has been named in the matchday 23 for this weekend, we shouldn’t automatically assume that he will get on the field, because Eddie Jones might opt to leave him on the bench and allow him to soak in the atmosphere that comes with international rugby, meaning that he will be ready when his chance does come. Given that Jones will no doubt want to rotate and try different players out during these three test matches, it is also possible that he will be used in different positions as England try to find out where he will have the biggest impact.
However, what we can expect is that this experience will definitely aid his development as a player, and he is definitely someone worth keeping an eye on.
In conclusion, this scout report has picked out four England players who are worth watching during the first test against Australia, identifying the qualities that they will bring to the team and looking at how they will fit into the team’s tactics. The players named in the analysis will all be key to England’s hopes of winning in different ways, whether that is defensive solidity, creativity or speed, with Eddie Jones saying that he wants his players to get on the front foot from the first minute in Perth and take the game to Australia.
With a strong Wallabies 23 that includes Brumbies and former Exeter Chiefs scrum-half Nic White, experienced fly-half Quade Cooper and flying winger Andrew Kellaway, England will need to work hard to limit the influence of their key players. However, with the squad that he has named, it seems as if Eddie Jones has tried to prepare for every eventuality, and it will interesting to see how they look to minimise their opponents’ threat as the game progresses.