November 16, 2017 / 11:57 AM / a year ago

Farrell, May and Launchbury start for England, Itoje on bench

LONDON (Reuters) - England coach Eddie Jones on Thursday delivered a staunch defence of his side’s display against Argentina last week but accepted they faced a stiffer challenge against Australia on Saturday after making three changes to his team.

Rugby Union - England Training - Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Britain - November 15, 2017 England's Owen Farrell during training Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

England failed to spark as they laboured to a 21-8 victory over the Pumas in a flat opening to their Autumn series. On Saturday Owen Farrell, Jonny May and Joe Launchbury return to the starting side, with Anthony Watson switching to fullback and returning lock Maro Itoje named among the replacements.

After announcing his team, Jones bristled at suggestions that his 20th win from 21 games in charge had not been up to scratch.

“It seems like since we had an ‘ordinary game’ against Argentina the whole place has exploded and I don’t think it’s like that,” he told reporters.

“I know you guys (the media) like to make it like that, but it’s not like that. We had a good win last week and we are looking forward to playing better this week.”

Farrell and Itoje were rested last week as part of Jones’s long-term plan to keep his squad healthy for the 2019 World Cup and the return of the former at inside centre is likely to ensure no repeat of the long periods last week where virtually nothing happened.

“He’s a great competitor and... one of the things we are going to have to do against Australia on the weekend is really compete for every ball, at every contest,” Jones said.

“There’s no one better at that than Owen. He’s a very experienced international player, a good defender, a good communicator in attack.”

The concussion suffered by Mike Brown last week opened the door for Watson at fullback and with Jonny May back after overcoming a hamstring injury and Elliot Daly on the left wing, it is a high-paced and exciting back three.

“He is strong, he’ll be the fastest winger on the field and any opportunities he gets, he’ll turn into points for us,” Jones said of May, who has been in great form after moving to Leicester this season.

The only change in the pack sees Launchbury in for George Kruis at lock alongside Courtney Lawes, who wins his 60th cap.

Rugby Union - England Training - Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Britain - November 15, 2017 England's Jonny May during training Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Itoje, rested last week and like Farrell shortlisted for the world player of the year award this week, is on the bench.

Despite Jones’s protestations England will need to be much sharper against an Australia team who have won five and drawn one of their last six games, including a rare success against New Zealand.

However, the Wallabies have lost four in a row against England and their only win in the teams’ last seven meetings was in the Rugby World Cup pool game that ended the hosts’ interest in the tournament two years ago.

“Of the team we played against last year, probably six or seven of those players were there and they’ll have a bit of an itch in the back of their head,” Jones said in reference to England’s impressive 3-0 away series win in 2016.

“When the game gets tighter, their memory will go back to those games so that’s an advantage for us. But they are probably the form team in the world at the moment so we expect a very, very tough game,” Jones said of his home nation.

“They’re playing that physical, juggernaut type of game. They’re a hard side to beat.”

Australia have named the same team that beat Wales 29-21 last week.

Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Toby Davis

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