The Autumn Internationals offer the chance for the best nations in Europe to compete against the best from the Southern Hemisphere. For England, this means test against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.

England enter the November tests as the third best nation in the world, a position they have not enjoyed since 2007. This is not from their performances, as they haven’t been playing, but due to the poor run of form that Australia has been on, especially in the Rugby Championship.

However, the men in white have issues of their own, most notably in the backs where the midfield partnership that dismantled the world champions last year is injured. This along with other concerns such as the delay in naming of a captain has meant that the English are perhaps not as confident as would outwardly seem.

robshaw

England have injury concerns, as said above, for the centres. Both Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt are out of the internationals, which is a real blow for the hosts as these two were immense last year, especially in the game against New Zealand. Tom Croft is also out for the series, with the flanker out for the season with knee ligament damage.

This means that an inexperienced centre pairing will have to be introduced, potentially both at international level and at club level. The naming of three uncapped centres (Tomkins, Trinder and Burrell) in the squad by head coach Stuart Lancaster is a risky move. However, with only Billy Twelvetrees and Jonathan Joseph who have won caps at international level in the fold, his options are limited.

After the squad had been announced the debate began on who will be named captain for the series, with two candidates standing out at before the internationals begin. Chris Robshaw has captained the team since 2012 and is the choice of many due to his previous experience in the role. However, Tom Wood captained the team in Argentina and is playing very well in the Aviva Premiership providing a difficult choice for Lancaster.

The decision was made to go with Robshaw as the captain, with Lancaster saying, “The first and foremost criteria for captaincy is to be on the team sheet and Chris is in there on his playing ability”, according to BBC Sport. His respect within the side was also given, along with his strong leadership, and in my opinion is almost definitely the best choice going forward.

Owen Farrell is perhaps in the driving seat, having been picked throughout the 2012 season and playing very well at club level.

Another dilemma within the international set-up is who to pick at fly half, with two contenders all with the ability to excel in the role. Owen Farrell is perhaps in the driving seat, having been picked throughout the 2012 season and playing very well at club level. However, Toby Flood has more international experience and is also playing very well for his club. There is a possibility of one of the two moving out to inside centre but this would be an area which would be exploited by the opposition.

The opponents:

Australia

The Wallabies play the English on the 2nd November and will do so invigorated by their finish to the Rugby Championship and the third Bledisloe Cup test. The 8-point loss in the latter, although still a defeat, was a much better performance by Australia and will give them much needed confidence in the Autumn Internationals.

Wallabies coach Ewan McKenzie seems now to be adapting to international rugby and they will be confident of beating the English, especially as it is their first test since the tour to Argentina.

Australia’s key players will look to exploit the defence of the home side, hoping a lack of time together will help them breach these defences. The attacking trio of Israel Folau, Will Genia and a resurgent Quade Cooper look to be hitting their stride, with the former in particular looking dangerous since his arrival from Aussie football and rugby league.

The visitors will look to exploit the home side therefore with these attacking players pivotal, along with Michael Hooper, in repeating the result from last year, which Australia won 20-14.

Argentina

The Pumas travel to Europe with another wooden spoon from the Rugby Championship in their possession. Two heavy defeats, one to the Springboks and the other to the faltering Wallabies, has made confidence something of a problem within the setup.

This coupled with the loss at home to the English in the summer, means that the Argentines will not go into these internationals with a huge amount of self-belief. The weariness at the end of a bruising competition will only be amplified by their schedule in the northern hemisphere.

The weariness at the end of a bruising competition will only be amplified by their schedule in the northern hemisphere.

However, their talismanic captain Juan Fernandez Lobbe will drive the Pumas to achieve all that they can and perhaps steal a win from a rusty home side. The dynamic running of scrum half Lendajo and new Saracens centre Marcelo Bosch will both look to cause an upset at Twickenham.

Unfortunately for the visiting side it does not look likely that, a week after a game against the Wallabies, England will be rusty.

New Zealand

The All Blacks will be looking to win their penultimate game of the year. They travel to Ireland after this game, and keep their hopes alive of being the first international team in the professional era to go a whole year unbeaten.

The World Champions arrive in impressive form with the Rugby Championship Cup retained due to a fantastic game against the Springboks at Ellis Park and the Bledisloe Cup kept on their side of the Tasman for another year.

They have only lost once since the Rugby World Cup, to England last year, and have played some scintillating rugby, confirming their ranking as the best side in the world. However, they have not achieved a Grand Slam since 2010 and have at times in the autumn internationals struggled against the northern hemisphere style of play.

They will be without Conrad Smith, which defensively will be a huge blow to the visitors and which England will look to exploit. However, they have such strength in depth all over the park that it looks almost impossible for anyone to beat them.

However, they have such strength in depth all over the park that it looks almost impossible for anyone to beat them.

England will need to play as well as they did last year, where they dominated the breakdown and did not let the visitors settle into their game plan at all. Unfortunately, this does not look likely which means that I believe there will be a New Zealand win in this game; by how much depends on how the hosts play in their games before this match and their style in this one.

James Oliver

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Image: bbc.co.uk

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