PERTH, AUSTRALIA: Eddie Jones admitted Owen Farrell “wasn’t very happy” after Courtney Lawes was named England captain Thursday for the opening Test against Australia, a match the under-pressure coach is desperate to win.
Veteran back Farrell had been Jones’s go-to man as skipper since 2018, but ankle injuries forced him to miss the entire Six Nations this year with Lawes taking the armband.
Jones opted to stick with experienced blindside flanker Lawes for the opening Test of the three-match series, although Farrell returns, having last played in the 32-15 win over the Wallabies in November 2021. “Owen’s a bloke who expresses his feelings clearly. He wants to be captain. When I told him he wasn’t going to be captain, he wasn’t very happy,” said Jones.
“Courtney Lawes has got a good sense of togetherness, he’s calm, engaging with the players. He’s the right fit for this tour.”
Veteran scrum-half Danny Care was handed a first start since 2018 while big forward Billy Vunipola is back for the first time since March last year.
Australia also sprung some surprises with lock Cadeyrn Neville and hooker David Porecki awarded debuts in a powerful pack, while playmaker Quade Cooper got the nod over James O’Connor.
Farrell will start at inside centre with Joe Marchant at outside centre. Joe Cokanasiga and Jack Nowell are on the wings and Freddie Steward at full back.
Jonny May, second only to Rory Underwood in England’s list of all-time leading try-scorers, was not in the match-day 23 after contracting Covid on arrival in Perth last week.
In another blow for the squad, Bath lock Charlie Ewels suffered a knee injury in training on Wednesday and has been ruled out of the tour.
Hooker Jamie George joins props Ellis Genge and Will Stuart up front with Maro Itoje and Jonny Hill in the second row. Tom Curry is openside flanker and Australian-born Vunipola makes his first appearance for England since the Six Nations last year at No.8.
– Expectations high –
England have won all eight of their Tests against the Wallabies since former Australia coach Jones took charge after the 2015 World Cup, including a 3-0 series whitewash six years ago.
Australia coach Dave Rennie stressed the importance of the lineout maul against England, an area where Neville excels.
“Nev is a very big man… very important to us from the set-piece point of view, very good at the maul, lineout and scrum. Same with Porecki,” he said.
Angus Bell, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Leota and Rob Valetini join them in the pack with flanker Michael Hooper leading the side again in his 119th Test.
Veteran Cooper won the battle for the No.10 shirt ahead of O’Connor, who failed to make the bench, and will reunite with fellow Japan-based backs Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete.
Cooper will also reignite his partnership with scrum-half Nic White for the first time since leading the Wallabies to five straight Test wins in 2021.
England (15-1): Freddie Steward; Jack Nowell, Joe Marchant, Owen Farrell, Joe Cokanasiga; Marcus Smith, Danny Care; Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes (capt); Johnny Hill, Maro Itoje; Will Stuart, Jamie George, Ellis Genge
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Joe Heyes, Ollie Chessum, Lewis Ludlam, Jack van Poortlviet, Guy Porter, Henry Arundell
Australia (15-1): Tom Banks; Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete; Quade Cooper, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (capt), Rob Leota; Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain; Allan Alaalatoa, David Porecki, Angus Bell
Replacements: Folau Fainga’a, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Matt Philip, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Jordan Petaia.