Farrell at fly-half against Tonga as England bench Smith

·3-min read

England captain Owen Farrell will start at fly-half when he leads the side in their Autumn Nations Series opener against Tonga at Twickenham on Saturday.

Eddie Jones, the England coach, had wanted to field rising star Marcus Smith alongside Farrell at inside centre.

But twice-capped Smith, who guided Harlequins to the Premiership title last season, suffered a leg injury in training this week, although he has been ruled fit to provide bench cover for Farrell, who will be winning his 100th England cap.

Veteran Australian coach Jones has opted for a midfield trio of Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade.

"Marcus hasn't been able to train," Jones told reporters after naming his side on Thursday.

"He just did some light training today and we anticipate he's going to be able to train fully tomorrow (Friday).

"Therefore we decided to start with Owen and Marcus will finish for us."

Jones has already started looking towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, as he aims to go one better after his England side were well beaten by South Africa in the final two years ago.

The back division features two exciting prospects in full-back Freddie Steward and winger Adam Radwan.

In the pack, Tom Curry has been chosen instead of Alex Dombrandt at No. 8, with Ellis Genge preferred to veteran loose-head prop Joe Marler.

- 'Ultimate aim' -

"There was a time when the previous World Cup team was possibly going to age a little bit and be too old to go to the next World Cup," said Jones.

"We've got a good mix for this game," he added.

"Thirteen guys from the previous World Cup and 10 new guys, so we feel like that's a team that can grow and develop to be world champions, which is our ultimate aim."

Meanwhile, the former Wallabies and Japan coach forecast a tough, "rip-roaring" clash against the Pacific islanders.

"Tonga will bring their most physical side," he said. "If you look at their two likely starting props Siegfried Fisi'ihoi and Ben Tameifuna, (they are) the two most outstanding scrummaging props in (France's) Top 14."

Jones briefly delayed naming his team after a member of his backroom staff tested positive for Covid-19.

All England players and management have undergone additional lateral flow tests and there have been no further positives, while the squad await the outcome of PCR testing.

Following the Tonga clash, England conclude their year with Twickenham matches against Australia and South Africa on November 13 and 20 respectively.

England's game against the Springboks will be the first time the teams have met since the 2019 World Cup final.

England (15-1)

Freddie Steward, Adam Radwan, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (capt), Ben Youngs; Tom Curry; Sam Underhill, Courtney Lawes; Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Ellis Genge

Replacements: Jamie Blamire, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Alex Dombrandt, Alex Mitchell, Marcus Smith, George Furbank

Coach: Eddie Jones (AUS)

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