Coach Eddie Jones had no qualms about selecting Manu Tuilagi on the wing for Saturday’s Cook Cup clash at Twickenham as England look to exploit Australia’s “inferiority complex” against England.
Tuilagi, a powerhouse midfielder who started at inside centre during England’s 69-3 rout of Tonga in their Autumn Nations opener last weekend, has displaced specialist wing Adam Radwan.
The switch has allowed England coach Jones to field flyhalf Marcus Smith alongside England captain Owen Farrell at inside centre against the Wallabies.
Tuilagi’s only previous Test appearance as a wing came against New Zealand in 2014 with Stuart Lancaster, Jones’ predecessor as England coach, immediately abandoning the experiment because of a lack of pace.
But Jones said the injury-prone Tuilagi, now aged 30, was in prime condition and would be allowed a free role against the Wallabies.
“I have seen Manu play on the wing and he can handle 12, 13, 11, 14 — he can handle all of those with aplomb,” Jones told reporters after naming his team on Thursday.
“I see a powerful player who’s probably in the best condition of his career, who will add to the ball players we’ve got inside and will finish off the movements that we have. He’ll be able to roam on the field, play like a second or third centre.
“Last season, Gael Fickou played on the wing for France and was outstanding.”
Jones was prevented from fielding a new 10-12 combination against Tonga after Smith, who steered Harlequins to the Premiership title last season, was only deemed fit enough to be among the replacements and Farrell was sidelined by what turned out to be a false test for coronavirus.
Now, however, the pair are set to start together for the first time, with Farrell making his 100th Test appearance and Smith just his third after coming off the bench to score a try against Tonga.
“Marcus knows he’s got to build his game. I’ve been really impressed by him since I started working with him on a daily basis since the summer tour,” Jones said.
“He’s progressing in a nice way but it’s his biggest test because he hasn’t played a Tier One country yet,” he added of the 22-year-old playmaker, who steered Harlequins to last season’s Premiership title
The pack is unchanged, with Maro Itoje set to win his 50th England cap.
Since replacing Lancaster as England boss in 2015, Jones has won all seven of his Tests against his native Australia.
“I know as an Australian that it’s probably hard for the English to understand what an important game this is for Australia,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Olympics, Test cricket, rugby league … this is the game that defines their season,” added Jones, Australia’s coach when they lost to England in the 2003 World Cup final in Sydney.
“This is the game they want win. We have bit of an inferiority complex against the English, the Australians.”
© Agence France-Presse