Date: Saturday, November 25
Well last week’s score flattered England a little bit. Australia certainly deserved more than the 6 points but couldn’t find a legal way to do it with two tries, rightfully, being chalked off by the TMO. However I think against Samoa it’s a chance for Eddie Jones to rest some players. Samoa are a different beast to what England played in 2014, they will be really hungry to prove a point to World Rugby to help sort their Rugby Union.
Jones has given Sam Simmonds the chance to show his calibre at international level with the knee injury to Nathan Hughes. We may find out whether Simmonds is big enough to be a Number 8 or whether he’d be better used as a flanker. Itoje is starting at 6 for the first time for England since the Six Nations and Robshaw plays at openside flanker for the first time under Eddie Jones, but considering Samoa aren’t employing any traditional 7s, Robshaw’s 6 and a half isn’t giving anything away.
Ellis Genge starts for the first time since Argentina after impressing for Leicester against Sale and is joined by his Tigers teammate Dan Cole on the other side of the scrum. Bath’s Charlie Ewels is given a rare start in the second row with Launchbury, which was the second-row pairing back in the Argentinian tour while the excellent Courtney Lawes is on the bench to act as one of Jones’ deadly finishers.
For the first time in Jones’ tenure, and in most people’s opinions long overdue, Jamie George has his first start for England and Dylan Hartley is relegated to the bench. Consequently, George Ford and Chris Robshaw will co-captain the side for the 1st time in a professional test after Jones had experimented with this leadership in the Barbarians fixture in June.
After a superb performance from the bench last Saturday, Danny Care starts ahead of the equally good Ben Youngs at scrumhalf, and Jones reverts to his centre combination of Alex Lozowski and Henry Slade which was used in the 1st Argentinian test. Mike Brown returns from concussion at fullback and Jonny May and Elliott Daly complete the backline. Overall it’s 9 changes from last weekend’s win over the Wallabies.
I think it’s safe to say that England will beat Samoa, but equally they mustn’t underestimate the opposition and expect an afternoon stroll.
Of course, a lot of off-field drama and controversy has been happening in Samoa but the players are convinced that this is bringing them closer together and that is somewhat good news. They entertained Murrayfield before losing 44-38 to the Scots and lost 17-14 to Romania, however the pitch was too small and Romania should be fined in my opinion.
As always their attack is scintillating, with the likes of Ahsee Tuala at fullback who has been one of Northampton’s few good form players at the moment and also Tim Nanai-Williams who is growing into the flyhalf role. As you would expect of a Polynesian nation, they have a really powerful back-row with Bristol’s Jack Lam at No 8 and Sale’s TJ Ioane at openside flanker and stalwart Ofisa Treviranus coming off the bench. Against Scotland they scored on almost every visit to the opposition’s ‘22 and so England have to be on top defensively to stop both their pack and their backs.
I suspect that Samoa will potentially look to outscore England rather then try to defend continuously against the home team. Despite the fact that Nanai-Williams isn’t really a fly half and won’t be punishing England from the tee for any indiscretion, he’s got great distribution and can put the likes of Tuala into some space to threaten England.
All eyes on
This week my eyes will be on Sam Simmonds. He has come on as a finisher in his first 2 caps but injury to Hughes has given Simmonds the chance to perform. In the Premiership he has got the pace of a centre combined with the power and the low sense of gravity of a backrower and has scored quite a few excellent tries for the Exeter Chiefs, and let’s hope he can bring the same level of performance for England on his 1st start.
For Samoa, my one to watch is Ahsee Tuala, he’s really good under the high ball and has got the pace and footwork to threaten England from anywhere on the pitch.
Head to head
Simmonds vs Jack Lam is the big head to head in my opinion, and could determine the quality of front-foot ball delivered to each back line. The battle between Ford and Nanai-Williams will be certainly interesting whilst I’m sure that, Northampton fans aside, we all want to see how well George does in the starting No2 jersey and his battle with Gloucester’s Motu Matu’u will be one to watch as well.
Please see the article from earlier today with all the November International Predictions.
By Jacob Bassford