There will be a full house at Twickenham for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began as England start their autumn international campaign against Tonga this afternoon.
Eddie Jones’ side are beginning the build towards the next World Cup in France in two years’ time and will be confident of putting on a show for the returning masses against a Tonga side who were hammered by Scotland last weekend.
However, with tougher tests against Australia and South Africa to come this month, the England boss will want to see his side looking sharp as they return to something much closer to full-strength, having been without his British & Irish Lions stars through the summer.
Things haven’t gone smoothly in the build-up, however, with a Covid scare in the camp and captain Owen Farrell subsequently testing positive.
Follow all the action with Standard Sport’s LIVE blog below…
Kick-off has been delayed 10 minutes at Twickenham, due to a late team arrival.
Match now due to get underway in about 35 minutes, at 3:25pm GMT.
Eddie Jones on George Furbank
George Furbank in for Owen Farrell at fly-half for England this afternoon then. Here’s what Eddie Jones has had to say about him:
“He’s a very good full-back, we’ve seen him play at 10 for Northampton very well.
“He’s got a nice feel for the game, he’s a physical defender and he’ll bring a lot of smarts to that position.”
Simon Collings at Twickenham
Tonga to improve?
Tonga were in action at Murrayfield last weekend, where they fell to a heavy 60-14 to a Scottish side without the likes of Stuart Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe, and Finn Russell.
They’ve made nine changes though to that side, and will be looking for a much-improved showing. A reminder of their team this afternoon…
Tonga XV: Veainu; W Fifita, Hingano, Taumoepeau, Kata; Morath, Takulua (capt); Fisi’ihoi, Ngauamo, Tameifuna, H Fifita, Halaifonua, Timani, Kafatolu, Vailanu.
Replacements: Maile, Uhila, Fia, Funaki, Havili, Fukofuka, Faiva, Fine.
Last meeting: England 35-3 Tonga (World Cup, 22/9/2019)
Standard Sport prediction
England should really run out comfortable winners here and the question is not if they win, but by how many points.
The back three of Adam Radwan, Freddie Steward and Jonny May has so much pace and they, in particular, will be hungry for tries.
The fact England are playing in front of 80,000 fans should also see them raise their level as Jones will want his side to put on a show.
A victory by 50 points seems likely.
Confirmed: Farrell out, Furbank in
England have confirmed that Owen Farrell is not available this afternoon because of that positive Covid test so George Furbank starts at No10, while Mark Atkinson steps up onto the bench.
Courtney Lawes will captain the side in Farrell’s absence.
England team news
There is no place for Smith’s great mate and Quins colleague Alex Dombrandt in the starting XV, with Tom Curry named at No8 in an experienced back row, alongside Courtney Lawes and Sam Underhill.
Curry, who emerged as a flanker, has four starts for England at No8, but none since March 2020.
However, young full-back Freddie Steward was passed fit to start and goes into an electric back three with Jonny May and Adam Radwan.
Jamie George, who was initially left out of the squad alongside other experienced players like the Vunipola brothers and George Ford, starts at hooker. George earned a reprieve when Luke Cowan-Dickie went down injured.
Smith to start if Farrell out?
Harlequins star Marcus Smith could be promoted to the starting XV if Farrell is absent, while George Furbank is another fly-half candidate.
Smith was one of a number of players blooded by Jones in the summer internationals against USA and Canada, and he immediately received a call-up to the Lions tour of South Africa, following a stunning season in Harlequins’ Premiership-winning side.
He is considered a central part of Jones’ rebuild, but his week has been disrupted by a knock, and he only made the bench, with Farrell initially chosen to captain the side from fly-half in an experienced midfield, alongside Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade.
How to watch
Live stream: England vs Tonga will be broadcast live on Amazon Prime Video, with coverage beginning at 2:30pm.