Eddie Jones is prepared to stick with the dual playmaker axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell for England’s do-or-die second Test against Australia on Saturday amid calls for the head coach to overhaul his 10-12 partnership.
Smith and Farrell lined up together for only the second time in the demoralising defeat by the 14-man Wallabies on Saturday and their failure to light the fuse on England’s attack has prompted calls from the World Cup winners Clive Woodward, Will Greenwood and Lawrence Dallaglio for Jones to make major changes.
Jones, however, is hopeful that the fledgling partnership will develop into a formidable double act and has revealed he intends to keep the combination in place for the second Test in Brisbane, where Australia have won their past 10 games. Asked if he will persevere with the duo, he said: “Certainly for the next Test.”
Jones is also set to escape punishment for his comments claiming the referee James Doleman helped Australia after Darcy Swain’s 34th‑minute red card by attempting to “even things up”. In a further boost for England, Jonny Hill has not been cited for pulling Swain’s hair nor for pushing the Australia lock, who faces a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday, in the face shortly before the red-card incident.
Some personnel changes are likely, however, with Tom Curry a doubt after sustaining a head injury on Saturday. Curry took a fearsome blow in the early stages and failed to appear for the second half of the match. “We’ll have to wait and see,” Jones said. “Curry might not be available.
It is unclear whether the openside flanker – who also went off at half-time with a head injury in the Six Nations win against Wales in February – will have to sit out for 12 days in line with World Rugby’s recent changes. When those changes were announced, however, the governing body stated the “vast majority of players diagnosed with concussion [are] likely to miss their next match owing to new criteria”.
Elsewhere, Jonny May is likely to come back into the side after he came out of isolation last Friday following a positive Covid test while Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Willis and Sam Underhill could all offer Jones’s side more of a threat at the breakdown – an area of weakness identified by Maro Itoje after the match.
Jones, nonetheless, believes his side can dig themselves out of the hole in which they find themselves, even suggesting that the confidence Australia will have gained from a first win over England in nine attempts could be their undoing. “They’ll be confident which creates an opportunity for us,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, Itoje has insisted England must toughen up if they are to keep their hopes of winning the series alive in Brisbane. Citing his experiences of the second match of a three-Test series in both of his British & Irish Lions tours as well as England’s 2016 whitewash of Australia, Itoje believes the intensity of the match on Saturday will be significantly higher than in Perth.
“In those moments when your back is against the wall the team has to get tighter,” Itoje said. “We have to narrow our focus, play tough rugby. It’s about raising the intensity. We’ll be gunning for game two.”