Eddie Jones has risked provoking fury among England supporters by describing tomorrow’s do-or-die second Test with Australia as practice for the World Cup and admitting “everything is geared” towards next year’s tournament.
Jones has handed debuts to Guy Porter and Tommy Freeman, as well as a first start to Jack van Poortvliet, and though the England head coach is under increasing pressure to deliver results he and the captain, Courtney Lawes, have claimed a good performance in Brisbane is more important than gaining victory.
Porter, who was born in England but raised in Australia, comes into the side at outside-centre to add “punch”, with Joe Marchant dropped, while the 21-year-olds Freeman and Van Poortvliet replace Joe Cokanasiga on the left wing and Danny Care at scrum-half respectively. It means Jones’s backline contains five players with a combined 23 caps for a match in which England are seeking to avoid a series defeat and a fifth straight loss this year, in their seventh Test.
Defeat would also mean England matching their dismal run of form in 2018 – ended by a narrow victory over South Africa having already lost the series – but Jones said: “Everything is geared towards the World Cup. Always has been and always will be. But that doesn’t mean you don’t treat this game with the utmost respect.
“This game is the perfect practice for the World Cup and our focus is putting on our best performance. It’s a pressure game, isn’t it? Once you get to the quarter-final of the World Cup, they are all pressure games so it’s great practice for us. We’ve got 12 months to the World Cup so we’re developing a team to win the World Cup. But of course we are preparing for this game and taking this game with the utmost importance.”
Jones admitted he was tempted to hand Henry Arundell a full debut after his stunning cameo last week, but, with the 19-year-old having to manage his training load after a calf injury that ruled him out of the pre-tour Barbarians defeat, the head coach has opted for caution. Freeman’s performance at full‑back that day was one of few bright spots for England.
Porter and Van Poortvliet, meanwhile, flew to Australia buoyant after Leicester’s Premiership title success but, in a demonstration of how Jones is rolling the dice this week, the scrum-half did not even make the Tigers’ match-day squad at Twickenham. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, there are plenty of opinions out there and there are a lot of people who are smarter than me, so if you want to listen to those people say it’s a gamble, it’s a gamble,” added Jones, who has also made one change to his pack, with Sam Underhill replacing the injured Tom Curry and urged to cause “havoc”.
“If you want to listen to me, you’ll say it’s a judgment call, as selection always is,” Jones added. “Is this the best team for this week? Are the players all ready? These are all questions and judgments we are making.”
Australia, who have won their last 10 matches in Brisbane, have made five changes to their XV, with the fearsome tighthead prop Taniela Tupou – nicknamed the Tongan Thor – coming into the side. Jordan Petaia is selected at full-back for the injured Tom Banks, Tom Wright and Hunter Paisami on the wing and at centre, respectively, because of injuries to Andrew Kellaway and Len Ikitau, while Matt Philip replaces the suspended Darcy Swain.
The Australia head coach, Dave Rennie, said the Wallabies have addressed the need to ignore any attempts to get under their skin after Swain’s head-butt on Jonny Hill, who had just pulled his hair and had pushed him in the face earlier in the match.
“I’ve mentioned that,” said Rennie. “The officials will be pretty sharp around it. It was surprising that the first offence, the push in the face that was pretty aggressive, wasn’t seen by any of the officials and if it had been I think it would have been dealt with and Darcy wouldn’t have been facing the judiciary. Everyone’s awareness around that is a little sharper now.”