Tuilagi in line for first England cap since 2016

England centre Manu Tuilagi

England v Australia
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 24 November Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live with BBC Two highlights at 19:30 GMT

England centre Manu Tuilagi is set to make his long-anticipated Test return after being named on the bench to face Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.

Tuilagi’s only England appearance since 2014 was as a 63rd-minute replacement against Wales in March 2016.

Jamie George is picked ahead of co-captain Dylan Hartley at hooker, while Owen Farrell starts at fly-half with Ben Te’o and Henry Slade the centres.

Bath’s Joe Cokanasiga is on the wing in place of the injured Jack Nowell.

Australia number eight David Pocock is fit to start after recovering from a neck injury as the Wallabies make five changes from the side that won 26-7 in Italy.

However, coach Michael Chieka suggested the 30-year-old remains a doubt.

“He’s hurting but he is desperate to play. If he gets to the line he will have to play through a bit of pain for sure,” he told BBC Sport.

“You never know what is going to happen, but the plan is he will be playing. We are trying to give him every chance to play.”

England number eight Nathan Hughes, whose six-week ban for punching ended this week, is on the bench as coach Eddie Jones opts to recall Sam Underhill and Brad Shields to the starting line-up and persist with Newcastle’s Mark Wilson at the back of the pack.

Courtney Lawes shifts from the back row into the second row after the 35-15 win over Japan last Saturday.

Jones says his preference for George starting the match before giving way to Hartley off the bench is based on the opposition.

“We just feel that the game is going to go like that – the first period will be quite fast with a lot of ball movement and that will suit Jamie and the last part will be more a traditional arm-wrestle,” he told BBC Sport.

“That is how games against Australia usually go. We feel that Jamie starting and Dylan finishing gives us our best result.”

England’s autumn Tests
3 November Beat South Africa 12-11
10 November Lost to New Zealand 16-15
17 November Beat Japan 35-15
24 November Australia

A succession of injuries and disciplinary issues have restricted Tuilagi to the briefest of cameos during Jones’ time in charge, with a groin strain forcing him to drop out of the squad to face South Africa in the first of England’s autumn internationals.

He has scored three tries in seven appearances this season for Leicester.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Farrell, who shares the captaincy with Hartley, said of Tuilagi: “Everybody knows what sort of player he is and what he can do to defences. He’s a game-breaker, he’s someone who anybody would struggle to stop. It’s exciting for us and for him.”

Leadership lessons from American football

Jamie George and Dylan Hartley

A study of matches at the 2015 Rugby World Cup showed that, after increasing between 1995 and 2007, the amount of time the ball is in play had now stayed the same for the past three tournaments.

Jones believes Hartley’s influence off the bench can be a crucial element to England’s success as the sport evolves.

“When Dylan comes on he gives us more leadership, which is outstanding,” said Jones.

“The way rugby’s going, it’s going more and more like NFL in that the games are getting longer and longer.

“The periods within the game are more intense but the breaks in the game are getting longer. Your ability to have fresh leaders on the field to communicate is just so important.”

Wounded Wallabies?

David Pocock

Cheika said that the Pocock’s regular injuries came because of his work disrupting the opposition at the breakdown.

“People definitely target him, I can’t say illegally, but he certainly takes some punishment in there,” he added.

Israel Folau and Bernard Foley, two of the Australian camp affected by a sickness bug this week, have recovered to start.

Kurtley Beale is left out of the matchday squad entirely, while Leicester’s Matt Toomua is at fly-half.

Australia have won only four of their past 14 Tests, with a 9-6 defeat by Wales a fortnight ago followed by an unconvincing win over Italy.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle has backed coach Michael Cheika, but has admitted there is “universal frustration” at the team’s performances.

Jones has also supported Cheika, who he played with at Australian side Randwick.

Ewen McKenzie and Eddie Jones

“He has had a tough time recently but he is a good coach,” he said.

“It reflects a lot about the system behind Australian rugby, they don’t have a centralised system and you look at how Ireland and New Zealand are flourishing, to blame Cheika for the results is quite unkind.

“For the coaches, it is exactly like the players. You want to kill each other on the field and when you get off the field you want to have a beer and a chat about the game.”

Australia have won 25 of their previous 49 games against England, but lost the past five encounters.

England: Daly; Cokanasiga, Slade, Te’o, May; Farrell, Youngs; Moon, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Lawes, Shields, Underhill, Wilson.

Replacements: Hartley, Hepburn, Williams, Ewels, Hughes, Wigglesworth, Ford, Tuilagi

Australia: Folau; Haylett-Petty, Kerevi, Foley, Maddocks; To’omua, Genia; Sio, Latu, Kepu, Rodda, Coleman, Dempsey, Hooper, Pocock.

Replacements: Polota-Nafu, Ainsley, Alaalatoa, Simmons, Hanigan, Samu, Phipps, Naivalu

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BBC Sport – Rugby Union

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