England responded to the loss of captain Owen Farrell to a positive Covid test by overwhelming Tonga 69-3 in their Autumn Nations Series opener.
The first 82,000 full house at Twickenham for 20 months because of the coronavirus pandemic noisily celebrated a 11-try rout led by Jonny May, Ben Youngs and Jamie George, who each crossed twice.
Victory was completed despite a disrupted build-up that saw Farrell withdraw as fly-half and captain after testing positive for Covid with confirmation of his absence delivered only 90 minutes before kick-off.
George Furbank was promoted to chief conductor for his fifth cap and a rookie who is more accustomed to playing full-back rose to the occasion by showing several attacking flourishes until he was replaced by Marcus Smith.
The intention had been for Farrell and Smith to form a playmaking axis but Covid and Smith’s leg injury sabotaged that plan and instead the Harlequins prodigy had to wait until the 53rd minute to step off the bench.
Smith entered the fray at a time when England were becoming scruffy in the face of successful Tongan spoiling but his arrival gave Eddie Jones’ men a second wind and he picked a brilliant support line to finish a break by man of the match Henry Slade.
The 22-year-old’s afternoon was marred only when he was elbowed on the floor in the 70th minute by Viliami Fine, who was sent off as a result.
That just about does us for this evening’s coverage of England’s win over Tonga. Tougher tests to come, but that was a mighty fine first autumnal outing for Eddie Jones’ side.
Australia are to come next Saturday - will Owen Farrell be available? Jones says that he will be guided by Public Health England, but if he has tested positive again...
We’ll have plenty of reaction and analysis from today’s game over the next few days, but for now, farewell - thank you for joining us.
The first 82,000 full house at Twickenham for 20 months celebrated a rout led by Jonny May, Ben Youngs and Jamie George
Courtney Lawes reacts to England’s win
“I’m really proud to captain England, especially with a group of lads like this. I found out yesterday, but it was still a little bit up in the air.
“I knew from the club that George Furbank would be sweet. He knew what he was doing - I didn’t feel worried about him at all.”
Eddie Jones on England’s leaders and the win
“Courtney Lawes’ chase-back tackle was incredible. Ellis Genge followed that up with his almost trademark barnstorming run. Both guys led by example. In terms of the heat of the battle, they weren’t tested, but they both put their best foot forwards.
“We saw the mindset of being aggressive and attacking the opportunities. That is what we have been working on.
“We knew 100% that Owen wouldn’t be involved this morning, so we made the change. George had trained all the way through in the opposition team so he hadn’t had the chance to run with Sladey and Manu as much as we would like. But he has got a lot of common sense and a nice feel for the game.”
Eddie Jones on his fly-halves and more
“It was a difficult game for both of those guys because the bulk of the training at fly-half has been done by Owen. They both acquitted themselves well and we are very pleased with their progress.
On Henry Slade: “It is a continuation of what we saw in the summer. He continues in terms of his status in the team and that is reflected in the way he is playing.
“The second half was one of those tricky 40 minutes of rugby when you know the result is no longer in the mix, but we played harder in the second half which is a good sign.
Eddie Jones on Owen Farrell
“We are just following the Covid protocols and regulations and awaiting further guidance.
“It is not my decision [on if he is available for Australia].”
We should have some reaction from England’s coach and captain imminently.
England’s new captain
It was also a good day at the office for Courtney Lawes, granted an unexpected opportunity to captain England and seizing it rather well. That tackle on Telusa Veainu was quite something, but Lawes was typically busy with the grunt-work to help lay the foundations. Will Eddie Jones retain that trio in the back row against Australia, who will present very different challenges?
Options for Eddie Jones
Presuming Owen Farrell is ruled out of next Saturday’s clash with Australia, which has still not been confirmed, you would think that Marcus Smith will step straight in with a full week of training behind him. George Furbank did play rather well, though, which may persuade Jones to eschew a call-up for George Ford and go with Furbank as his fly-half backup.
You would be very surprised if the backline changes otherwise, even if Max Malins is fit to return. Everything fitted together rather well today.
As for the visiting side, that was a mild disappointment, unable to add much to the contest as they tired and were hamstrung by regular ill-discipline. Quite what Viliami Fine was thinking when he elbowed Marcus Smith in the face I’m not sure, but Tonga’s problems had long been apparent before that point, unable to combat England’s attacking game and short of options when the hosts were able to stall their big carriers. They will be disappointed not to have registered more than three points on a day where they did kick, largely, well.
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