England will have an added dose of star quality in their side when they face Australia on Saturday with Owen Farrell named in the starting XV, but I’m a little disappointed Eddie Jones has opted to recall him.
Farrell was relegated to carrying the drinks against Argentina last week, having been rested from the autumn series opener following his exploits with the British and Irish Lions during the summer.
England were nowhere near as coherent in attack against the Pumas as they usually are and one of the primary factors in that was probably Farrell’s omission, but I would have liked to see the midfield three on show given more game time.
I wish Jones had persisted with Exeter’s Henry Slade, who has been dropped to the bench, at inside centre alongside George Ford at fly-half and Jonathan Joseph at No13.
It’s important for England to be able to cope without Farrell, should he ever have an enforced absence, and have depth and flexibility in the squad, but they have come away from the experiment of playing Ford, Slade and Joseph with unanswered questions.
I would like to have seen Slade given at least one more crack in that position, if not the entire autumn campaign which would include next week’s match at Twickenham against Samoa.
Players need to feel comfortable in a system and structure and Slade’s confidence has probably taken a knock from being dispensed with after one outing and I’m not convinced we’ve learnt an awful lot from that solitary match.
The overwhelming suggestion now is that England’s backline is not capable of playing as fluid and attacking rugby as they are when Farrell is in the team.
All that said, you cannot really fault Jones for wanting a player of Farrell’s stature back in the team. The pressure has come on after an uninspiring performance but, thinking of the long game and a World Cup, it may well have been advantageous for the 26-year-old to be rested for longer.
The game itself against the Wallabies has been given extra bite by Australia beating world champions New Zealand in October and overpowering Wales fairly comfortably at the Principality Stadium last week.
A yearning for England to play New Zealand is still there but at least now the Red Rose are coming up against a side who are building up a head of steam, having been undefeated in seven Tests, and are capable of challenging for big honours.
Even though there were positives against Argentina – I thought No8 Nathan Hughes and flanker Sam Underhill were impressive – England were far from at their best, but they have a chance to come out and show how responsive they are.
There were reasons for England’s below-par performance; the lack of Farrell, being rusty in the first match of autumn. But, nevertheless, Australia will be licking their lips. It’s all building to an intriguing crescendo.
Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.@OlliePhillips11