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Rugby-Farrell at flyhalf for England v Tonga; Smith on bench

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By Reuters
Rugby-England delay naming team after positive COVID test among staff
Rugby-England delay naming team after positive COVID test among staff   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON -England captain Owen Farrell will win his 100th test cap when he starts at flyhalf in Saturday’s Twickenham test against Tonga, with Marcus Smith, who has missed parts of training this week with a leg injury, on the bench.

Farrell will be making his 94th England appearance having also played six tests for the British & Irish Lions and takes the number 10 shirt after Smith, widely expected to start in that position, was unable to take part in key preparation sessions.

Injury-hit inside centre Manu Tuilagi makes his first appearance since March 2020, with Henry Slade at outside centre. Ben Youngs will win his 110th cap at scrumhalf, with uncapped Alex Mitchell among the replacements.

Exciting winger Adam Radwan will win his second cap, with Freddie Steward winning his third at fullback.

Jones has opted for Tom Curry at Number Eight, with Alex Dombrandt set to join the fray from the bench, and Courtney Lawes starting at blindside flanker.

Tonga, shorn of several first-choice players, were hammered 60-14 by Scotland last week and England, playing in front of an 82,000 Twickenham full house for the first time since last year’s Six Nations, will expect another demolition job.

Fans though are likely to be less interested in the scoreline than England’s approach, as they seek to move on from their turgid play of the last year.

“The speed of the ruck has gone from three seconds to 2.79, which is about a 10% increase in speed, so there are opportunities to be more aggressive with the ball,” Jones said.

“That’s where the game’s at at the moment and that’s what we’re looking for. We’re not going to be the perfect finish on Saturday but we’re going to play with a lot of intensity, a lot of physicality and we want to keep those fans at Twickenham glued to the edge of their seats.”

Saturday’s matchday squad includes 13 players who were involved in the 2019 World Cup and 10 new faces and Jones is hoping the injection of youth will lift the side.

“We want trademark games out of them,” Jones said of the young brigade. “To play with a lot of effort and a lot of control, and then if they get the opportunity, to bring their special talents to the game.”

Most of England’s best performances in recent years have involved stellar displays from Tuilagi and Jones said the bullocking centre was raring to go.

“He’s in great physical condition – Sale have done an outstanding job with him,” he said. “It’s like he’s going to win his first cap on Saturday at the moment so we’re all excited about what we’re going to see from him.”

After this week’s warm-up England face Australia and world champions South Africa on Nov. 13 and 20 but Jones was in no mood to write off Saturday’s opponents.

“What a rugby country,” he said of the Pacific island. “100,000 people and they produce per capita more fantastic rugby players than any other country in the world.”

England team to face Tonga15. Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)14. Adam Radwan (Newcastle Falcons, 1 cap)13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 40 caps)12. Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 43 caps)11. Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 66 caps)10. Owen Farrell (Saracens, 93 caps)9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 109 caps)1. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 30 caps)2. Jamie George (Saracens, 59 caps)3. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 44 caps)4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, 48 caps)5. Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, 9 caps)6. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 87 caps)7. Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 24 caps)8. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 33 caps) Replacements16. Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons, 2 caps)17. Joe Marler (Harlequins, 72 caps)18. Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 12 caps)19. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 23 caps)20. Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins, 1 cap)21. Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, uncapped)22. Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 2 caps)23. George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 4 caps)