A thread: What to make of Eddie, England and Rennie's Wallabies

There are some huge Tests across Europe this weekend, but none bigger than the one at Twickenham between England and Australia.

Much has changed since Eddie Jones' side triumphed 40-17 at the 2019 World Cup, with both teams seeing a transition in personnel while also riding the ups and downs of sport during the pandemic.

ESPN's chief rugby writers Tom Hamilton [England] and Sam Bruce [Australia] have kept their finger on the pulse, and now go head-to-head over some of the big talking points for this Test.

SB: Eddie Jones is undertaking another overhaul of his squad; how is that all coming together, and does the Australian still retain the faith of the wider English rugby community?

TH: The 2021 Six Nations performance where England finished fifth resulted in Jones drawing a line through that iteration of the squad, and drafting a new-look one for this campaign. That saw the likes of Billy Vunipola, George Ford and Mako Vunipola temporarily exiled, and new faces brought in. The changing of the guard has seen a change in the leadership group, with Owen Farrell retaining the captaincy but flanked by Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Ellis Genge. Jones has also blooded exciting youth in fullback Freddie Steward while Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt will be given license to thrill from the bench come Saturday. The pick of Manu Tuilagi on the wing is also fascinating, and the next step in Jones' plan to have a hybrid, interchangeable backline which can shift positions both in offense and defence. Jones favours a 6-2 split in the sterner asks, so it's a team built on establishing a platform over the first 60, and then sprinting home. If England go three from three this autumn, then they'll head into the Six Nations full of confidence. He does retain the faith of the England fans, but they need to keep this feel-good factor going.

TH: And what about Australia - Dave Rennie has seemingly turned this team around in 2021, what's he done differently this year as opposed to his first season in charge?

SB: Certainly having more quality time together, in camp, has been beneficial, and that's probably been the silver lining of the COVID-enforced lockdowns in Australia this year. Rennie has had access to his players for months on end and because of the need to stay in bio-secure bubbles for large chunks of that time, there have been few distractions. The Kiwi has also further developed his cultural overhaul of the Wallabies, and they are far more harmonious bunch than the final couple of years of the Michael Cheika era. On the field, it's hard to look past the returns of Samu Kerevi and Quade Cooper - who aren't with the squad in the U.K. - and how that allowed the Wallabies to play a different style of game, much flatter up at the line, with Kerevi the key there. Getting back to somewhere near that at Twickenham this week will be vital, and Rennie has already demanded more from fly-half James O'Connor, whom he said had a "mixed" first outing at Murrayfield last week. The loosening of the Giteau Law facilitated the returns of Kerevi and Cooper, now Rennie will be hoping for more from Rory Arnold, Kurtley Beale, Will Skelton and Tolu Latu at Twickenham.

SB: Tell us about young Marcus Smith, he has got the start for England this week. What makes him an exciting and different option for England?

TH: Smith is an incredibly exciting talent. He can play both on the front foot, while also having the ability to slow the play down and opt for tactical kicking options. But Smith and Owen Farrell at 10 and 12 respectively has the potential to be the partnership there to guide England into the 2023 World Cup. Smith was integral to his club side Harlequins winning the Gallagher Premiership last season, and he carried that into the summer Tests where he impressed against both USA and Canada before earning a British & Irish Lions call up. Jones has long had his eye on Smith, having first spotted him in 2015 at Brighton College, and then called him into an England squad back in 2017. It's taken him a little while to fulfil his potential, but he's already a crowd favourite. He was electric against Tonga last weekend, and there is growing expectation around him. Jones is quietly optimistic England have a genuine world-class 10 in the making in Smith, but he'll do his best to keep the young fly-half grounded as he prepares for his first Test match against a Tier 1 nation. "We're playing against the side that's beaten the world champions twice," Jones said. "It's a huge step but is he capable of doing it? Of course, he is. He'll rise to the challenge and handle it well but it's a big step for him."

TH: While England have Smith in their ranks, Australia are without Samu Kerevi and Quade Cooper. How big have their losses been, and how much do you read into last week's loss in Edinburgh?

SB: They have left massive holes, Kerevi in particular. You could see from the Japan Test a few weeks ago - which Cooper did play in - just how gigantic a hole Kerevi had left in this Wallabies setup and how tough the European tour was going to be without him. Kerevi's ability to bend the line, even under defensive duress, have made him one of the most valuable centres in world rugby. He also has an offload, has improved his own defense and is a couple of years wiser than the player that once suggested he might "go and play rugby league" amid the high tackle controversy at the 2019 World Cup. Kerevi's presence at No. 12 in turn allowed Cooper to play a more understated game; he knew when he got into trouble he could just hand the ball to his centre and tell him to put his head down. There was little of the flashy Cooper passes or panicked runs when he'd turned himself inside out - though that did return in Oita without Kerevi. Certainly I think O'Connor will be better for last week's run at No. 10 but he needs to be play flatter up at the line, and he will only be able to do that on the back of a solid platform up front. The Scots are a good team - they did beat England at Twickenham earlier this year - so last week's result wasn't cause for sheer panic either.

SB: What's Eddie Jones been saying this week? Has he been stoking the England-Aussie rivalry?

TH: Jones knows full well the strength of rivalry between the two countries and he opened his Thursday pre-match press conference by talking about Australia's "inferiority complex" when it comes to England. He later expanded on this, drawing on his own roots, by talking about how he looked to England as the "mother country" and sport offered Australia the "opportunity to prove we were not the smaller country". But there's no doubt that Jones has by far the dominant say in this rivalry since he took over England in 2015. Since then they've played each other seven times, with Jones' England winning all seven. But he's warned England to expect an Aussie backlash. "This is the game they want," he said. "We understand how important it is to them. We understand they won't go away. We understand we will have to be in the game for every minute of the game." But judging by Nic White's comments, they've been ready for a few mind games this week.

TH: White's one of the more experienced heads in this Wallabies team, but which of the new faces might surprise England come Saturday?

SB: I'll give you two names England fans probably won't have heard too much about, but they will want to keep an eye on this Saturday. Up front, Rob Valetini has probably been the Wallabies' best forward this year, or at least is in a neck-and-neck race with skipper Michael Hooper. Valetini was one of the dominant forwards in Super Rugby, yet Dave Rennie told him he wanted to see more "repeat efforts" out of the back-rower and that is exactly what he delivered in the Rugby Championship. For so long the Wallabies have needed a dominant ball-carrier in the mould of a Billy Vunipola [yes, I know Eddie hasn't picked him] or a Duane Vermeulen, and now they have it in Valetini. Meanwhile at No. 13, Len Ikitau is a player who will only get better over the next few years. He is still finding his feet at Test level, as we saw with a wayward early pass from turnover ball last week in Edinburgh, but he does possess an excellent left boot which sets up a great match-up with Henry Slade. Ikitau's also boasts a good fend, which allows him to slip his defenders one-on-one on the outside shoulder.

SB: Let's wait and see if they will change the tale of the tape - but if it plays out like it has done recently, why will England win this Test?

TH: It all depends if England can build on their performance against Tonga last weekend. The pack was dominant, while the backs sparkled with the space allowed. But the Wallabies are a far sterner task. This is a new-look England, but they're playing with confidence and youthful exuberance. Twickenham was rocking last Saturday, and with an even later kick off, the fans will be in full voice and the players will thrive as a result. Central to this will be the set-piece and discipline: if England can get the ascendancy there, while maintaining their composure, then they'll win.

TH: There are some familiar faces in the Australia coaching set up in Scott Wisemantel, could his influence help the Wallabies end their winless run against Jones' England?

SB: Wisemantel's mark on this Wallabies reinvention has been clear and the team is playing a far more rounded game plan than the "attack at all costs" version of the Cheika era. Wisemantel will also obviously have key intel on a number of England players and can perhaps unlock a few secrets across the squad. But Australia have a couple of huge concerns again this week. The first is the fact they have no Samu Kerevi, the second being concussions and subsequent omissions of tightheads Allan Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou. Young Waratahs prop Angus Bell is going to be a fine Test front-rower in a few years' time, but this will be his biggest challenge yet and his assignment follows a week when the Wallabies struggled at scrum time. Thankfully they still have the experience of James Slipper, who switches to the tighthead side, to count on, and the one scrum they did pack with Bell and Slipper last week was actually quite solid. While I think England will win, it won't be a blowout like their two most recent victories at Twickenham, and of course that World Cup quarterfinal, too. These Wallabies are full of fight and have genuine quality on their bench now [keeping in mind the front-row setbacks], so it won't at all be a surprise to me if this Test is in the balance with five minutes to play.