Eddie Jones will be eager to tick some boxes at Twickenham on Sunday against the Barbarians.
He has asked his men to play with passion, pride and energy because they can “do something special for the English rugby community and the wider community” in difficult times.
Ahead of an intriguing, unique autumn, here are a few more goals that Jones will want to fulfill.
Authority from Owen Farrell
Since kicking 15 points in a 33-30 victory over Wales on March 7, England’s skipper has played precisely 141 minutes of rugby for Saracens. And, as you will know, his emergence from lockdown did not go entirely to plan.
An 18-point outing against Harlequins in August was sharp and slick. But then came a slight quadriceps injury and a clunky, error-strewn afternoon at Allianz Park two weeks later that ended prematurely when Farrell clattered 18-year-old Wasps fly-half Charlie Atkinson and was sent off.
A five-week ban relegated him to water boy duties for Saracens’ stirring Champions Cup performances against Leinster and Racing 92. Farrell would have had an influential role in preparations, but would have been itching for more.
This meeting with the Barbarians should constitute his third appearance in over seven months. It is a sympathetic way for Farrell to shake off rust before an interesting autumn schedule of five Tests.
Jones will not care too much for the buzz surrounding Joe Simmonds, Jacob Umaga and Marcus Smith. Still, an authoritative match from his captain – and George Ford if he persists with his trusted 10-12 axis – might mean he fields fewer questions about fly-half options.
In the first episode of its latest season, The Next Level, a YouTube series from the RFU, depicted Farrell speaking in tone-setting meetings at the Lensbury and prior to a Twickenham training run. His desire does not seem to have dimmed.
“This is going to be an attitude session,” he said at Twickenham. “It’s about the tough stuff. Getting off the line, getting in front, kick-chase – the attitudinal stuff that’s going to be the base of our game.”
Tenacious leadership is a given with Farrell. He, and his head coach, will want to match that with a strong all-round display.
A convincing outcome
Before a meeting with Fiji four years ago, Jones vowed that England would be playing “fish and chip rugby”. Essentially, he did not want his side to provide their free-running opponents with broken-field situations.
Those words from Farrell underline England’s uncomplicated priorities for Sunday. They will have noted the two Bledisloe Cup encounters as well.
Even though conditions were perfect for expansive attack at the weekend, New Zealand stripped things back and imparted a far more direct gameplan. Explosive wing Caleb Clarke proved to be Australia’s chief tormentor.
Jones has an odd relationship with this fixture. In 2018, he conveniently denied it had even existed when arguing that England were on a losing run of five rather than six games on the tour of South Africa. His charges were beaten in their final three Six Nations games before losing 63-45 to Pat Lam’s invitational team and falling short twice against the Springboks.
Last summer, Jim Mallinder and a makeshift coaching set-up took the reins. Jones gave himself separation, but still popped in with a few pointers. This time, he has taken centre stage.
Plenty of experienced front-liners including Ford, Mark Wilson, Jonathan Joseph, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and the Saracens contingent punctuate the 32-man squad. He will demand an uncompromising, stingy win.
Sharpness at scrum-half and backline speed
With Ben Spencer ignored and Dan Robson due to play in the Premiership final – with Harry Randall waiting to see if Bristol Bears are required – three scrum-halves remain.
Ben Youngs, Willi Heinz and heir apparent Alex Mitchell are vying for two spots in this curtain-raiser, where they will take on Richard Wigglesworth. The Next Level contains footage of attack coach Simon Amor drilling the distribution of those first two.
Later on, Youngs makes a snaking break at Twickenham. It feels like ancient history now, especially after Leicester Tigers’ struggles, but the 99-cap number nine enjoyed a decent Six Nations.
Elsewhere in the backline, Elliot Daly’s absence would seem to set up a three-way tussle for the full-back slot. Anthony Watson is the tried-and-tested option. George Furbank would welcome a chance to respond from what was a stuttering second half to his season. Ali Crossdale, just 22, is the wildcard.
The presence of four outside centres – Fraser Dingwall, Joseph, Joe Marchant and Ollie Lawrence – is in keeping with Jones’ penchant for versatile operators… as well as his ever-interesting selection strategy when it comes to midfield.
Marchant, proficient on the right wing, and Lawrence are particularly exciting. Ollie Thorley, so close to Test involvement previously, packs real punch as well. He ghosted between Billy Vunipola and Simon Kerrod in training last week, with the help of a sly block from Wilson:
In Youngs, Ford, Farrell, Jonny May and Joseph, England have enough know-how to look after the fresher faces.
Uncapped upstarts in the pack
Calum Clark, Chris Robshaw and Jackson Wray are all part of the Barbarians’ squad. That suggests England will be facing a gnarled, streetwise pack. Indeed, a large group of Saracens means that cohesion will not be a problem for their opponents.
Before players such as Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ben Earl and Jack Willis are reintegrated (or introduced, in Willis’ case, Jones will be keen for others to stand up and challenge the established order.
Bath boys Beno Obano, Tom Dunn, Will Stuart and Charlie Ewels can reprise their brawny club form. Joe Heyes, the 21-year-old Tiger cub, is one of two tighthead props. He will play. David Ribbans, rangy, athletic and tough, has a chance as well.
Alex Dombrandt enjoyed facing the Barbarians last year. His intuition, in attack and defence, is special.