Five talking points ahead of England’s Old Mutual Wealth Series opener against Argentina, live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event from 2.00pm.
‘Slade has been outstanding’
In tandem with Exeter Chiefs fly-half Gareth Steenson, Slade was a key creative force behind the Chiefs’ fabulous Premiership triumph last season from the centre.
The 24-year-old’s international career had stagnated to a point, down in no small part to a horrific leg break in 2015, but the summer tour to Saturday’s opponents Argentina was a chance for him to showcase himself to Eddie Jones, and that he did.
The holder of an absolute wand of a left foot, Slade has quietly slipped back into the starting England XV in place of the rested Owen Farrell at inside-centre, as once again Jones goes with a dual-playmaker system.
England vs Argentina
November 11, 2017, 2:00pm
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Having exploded onto the scene initially, Slade could yet cement his place in the England side and Saturday at Twickenham is the ideal opportunity to do just that.
“Slade, I think, has really matured,” Jones told Sky Sports. “He had a good tour to Argentina and though he had a good tour, he was disappointed in his performance which I think is fantastic.
England coach Eddie Jones says Henry Slade's maturity has impressed him and sees him as a number 12 or 13
“His error count was too high last year, 100 per cent. But he’s always been one of these guys that it’s probably come too easy for.
“He’s always been the next boy wonder and now he’s having to work for it, and I think he’s been absolutely outstanding.”
Argentina’s selection policy
With the formation of the Jaguares Super Rugby franchise from the 2016 season, Argentina announced a new selection policy in which players in the European club scene would not be considered.
To go with the already glittering list of stars they are without due to the self-imposed policy, another one has been added to the list in the form of tighthead prop Ramiro Herrera for this autumn series.
Having joined Stade Francais he is now ineligible and consequently was not selected in the touring squad.
Pumas head coach Hourcade has been strongly in favour of the policy since its inception, but even he admitted at the end of August that he “wished Juan Figallo was here”, the Saracens prop just one of a number of talented players not in the camp.
Racing 92 winger Juan Imhoff, who has 21 tries in 35 Tests, is another player they are badly missing.
Argentina’s standout player from the 2016 season, Facundo Isa, who has proven outstanding in the back row on the world stage, has also been absent owing to the fact he is now at Toulon.
Saracens centre Marcelo Bosch, Racing 92 second-row Manuel Carizza and Clermont’s superb young fly-half Patricio Fernandez are all also ineligible for selection at the present time.
When Argentina first put this rule into action they were ranked number five in the world. They have now slipped to 10th, below Fiji.
Their defeat to Australia last time out was their 17th loss in their last 20 Tests, and most worrying for Hourcade is that the trend of players moving to Europe shows no signs of letting up.
Argentina do not have the playing resources of New Zealand or England, they just do not have the numbers to be able to successfully put in place such a restrictive selection policy.
As recently as 2013, 90 per cent of Argentine internationals were playing in Europe. To adopt this measure so abruptly and rigidly and expect no drawback is unfeasible.
The Hartley/George debate
He may have been the starting hooker for the Lions in all three Tests against the All Blacks, but Jamie George once again finds himself behind England skipper Dylan Hartley for England.
Hartley missed out on Lions selection and led England on their two-Test tour to Argentina in the summer, but such was the quality George showed for the Lions, many expected him to usurp the Northampton Saints man this autumn.
George played his way past form hooker Ken Owens and Ireland skipper Rory Best to confirm his Test place, and played the entire 80 minutes in the second Test victory.
In the Six Nations last season George came off the bench in each of the five fixtures, sometimes replacing Hartley as early as the 46th minute.
Yet George will have to make do with his 18th consecutive start on the replacements’ bench, having yet to don the number two jersey in white.
How long will this situation persist? Will Hartley continue to cling on as Jones’ trusted lieutenant or will George’s form ultimately prove too good to keep him out?
England players rested
Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports this week, Jones revealed his England charges would be split into three different training groups, claiming the third year of a World Cup cycle is the “most difficult.”
That could go some way to explaining his decision to leave out Saracens trio Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola for this weekend.
Vunipola was injured throughout the summer, which caused him to miss the Lions tour to New Zealand, while Farrell and Itoje have accumulated a considerable amount of rugby minutes in recent seasons.
“The third year is always the most difficult because the first two years you live the dream, everyone’s excited,” said Jones.
“The third year is two years until the World Cup, it’s still a long way away, whereas next year the World Cup is the following year so the excitement’s there.
England head coach Jones claims the third year of a World Cup cycle is the most difficult
“So this is the year where we’ve got to work really hard so we create a programme for the players that excites them to be better.”
Jones clearly has the World Cup already in his thoughts and is set about building a squad jam-packed with world-class depth. Who will step up in the absence of some of his most trusted performers?
Of England’s 10 home games under Eddie Jones so far, they have yet to lose and will be aiming to extend that record to 13 by the end of November.
Each Tier 1 nation bar New Zealand has visited Twickenham a least once to face England with Jones in charge since he took over in November 2015, and he has overseen victory over all of them.
South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Argentina, France, Italy and Fiji have all tasted defeat at the home of English rugby.
Can Argentina upset Jones’ proud home record on Saturday?