Autumn Nations Series: England vs Tonga talking points and team news

England are preparing for their first match of the autumn when they face Tonga

England begin their Autumn Nations Series campaign on Saturday when they welcome Tonga to Twickenham for the first of three Test matches in November.

Eddie Jones’ side endured a disappointing Six Nations, but a host of new players came to the fore in the convincing wins over the USA and Canada in the summer, and these autumn matches see the next steps as the team builds towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Here, we take a look at what is being said ahead of, and team news for, Saturday’s contest…

A chance to focus on the rugby

There have been some rumblings of discontent in the build-up to this clash around the methods employed by England head coach Jones, particularly on the back of reports which appeared in The Times last week about reasons for the high turnover of backroom staff during his tenure.

A fifth-place finish and some abject displays in this year’s Six Nations did the Australian few favours either, but there are plenty of people still right behind Jones as he starts to shape a squad to take on the world’s best at the World Cup in France in two years’ time.

Indeed, it should be all about what happens on the field come 3.15pm on Saturday afternoon and one player who has no doubt Jones is employing the right methods to take the team forward is Jonny Hill, who is set to start alongside Maro Itoje in the second row against Tonga.

“When I first started playing rugby professionally, I thought: ‘This is hard’,” Hill said. “But now you realise things need to be hard for you to get better. If it’s not hard, what’s the point?

Curry at No. 8 for England; Smith on the bench

Tom Curry will start at No. 8 for England vs Tonga at Twickenham on Saturday, while Marcus Smith is fit enough only for the bench.

“It’s a really good learning environment. The man I am today compared to the man I was a year ago… I’m a way better player. I’m thankful for the environment – I love it.”

England looking to the future

As well as plenty of experience in the 23-man matchday squad, England’s team against Tonga will feature several up-and-coming players eager to show they deserve to be part of the national team on a long-term basis.

Of the players who made their bows in the summer internationals, full-back Freddie Steward and winger Adam Radwan are both in the starting XV for this week’s match at Twickenham.

Meanwhile, exciting fly-half prospect Marcus Smith, who had been struggling with a leg injury in the build-up, is on the bench along with hooker Jamie Blamire and No 8 Alex Dombrandt, as well as uncapped scrum-half Alex Mitchell.

England head coach Eddie Jones confirmed Marcus Smith will start as a replacement for the opening Autumn International against Tonga, and is excited by a new era for English rugby.

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England head coach Eddie Jones confirmed Marcus Smith will start as a replacement for the opening Autumn International against Tonga, and is excited by a new era for English rugby.

England head coach Eddie Jones confirmed Marcus Smith will start as a replacement for the opening Autumn International against Tonga, and is excited by a new era for English rugby.

Ben Youngs, England’s most-capped scrum-half who starts alongside skipper Owen Farrell in the halves against Tonga, is impressed by what they and the other newcomers who have been involved in the build-up to the autumn series opener have brought to the table.

“The beauty of young players is that they come in with enthusiasm and energy and they don’t necessarily get bogged down by the consequences of things or the pressures of things,” Youngs said.

“That’s a beautiful thing you can see in training. They just go out there and express themselves.”

Tonga aim to close gap

Saturday’s visit to Twickenham will be the first time Tonga have faced England in a Test match outside of a World Cup, but could mark the start of stronger links between the two nations.

  • 1999: England 101-10 Tonga (Twickenham, Rugby World Cup Pool B)
  • 2007: England 36-20 Tonga (Paris, Rugby World Cup Pool A)
  • 2019: England 35-3 Tonga (Sapporo, Rugby World Cup Pool C)
  • An England XV also beat Tonga 37-17 in a non-cap international in Nuku’alofa in 1979

When this fixture was announced in July, the RFU said it would make a “goodwill gesture of a donation” towards the Tongan Rugby Union and announced a development partnership which will see both bodies swapping coaches and support staff.

That agreement, and whether they are able to secure regular matches against Tier 1 nations in the future, will help the Pacific Islanders with their development.

“What we will be able to get is access to expertise to help and assist local staff population and have a really good exchange of ideas,” Tonga’s chief executive Peter Harding said.

“What they will get is a tour where they will learn how to be more agile and because they won’t have the resources they usually have at their fingertips.”

Scotland proved too strong for Tonga last weekend

Scotland proved too strong for Tonga last weekend

Tonga head to Twickenham on the back of a 60-14 defeat to Scotland last weekend, but have a squad boosted by some more established names who were unable to play at Murrayfield due to that match being outside the international window – with England boss Jones particularly wary of the danger posed by props Siegfried Fisi’ihoi and Ben Tameifuna.

Team line-ups

England: 15 Freddie Steward; 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May; 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Jonny Hill, 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Tom Curry.

Replacements: 16 Jamie Blamire, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Alex Dombrandt, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 George Furbank.

Tonga: 15 Telusa Veainu; 14 Walter Fifita, 13 Mali Hingano, 12 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 11 Solomone Kata; 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Sontane Takulua (c); 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 2 Paul Ngauamo, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 4 Leva Fifita, 5 Tanginoa Halaifonua, 6 Lopeti Timani, 7 Mateaki Kafatolu, 8 Sione Vailanu.

Replacements: 16 Siua Maile, 17 Loni Uhila, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Setefano Funaki, 20 Onehunga Havili, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 James Faiva, 23 Viliami Fine.

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