WILL GREENWOOD is intrigued to see if Anthony Watson genuinely has what it takes to prove he can rival Mike Brown as England’s leading full-back.
Finally, in his 28th Test, the Bath winger gets to start in his favoured position today when England face Australia in the Cook Cup encounter at Twickenham.
Brown, a mainstay at No 15 under both current coach Eddie Jones and his predecessor Stuart Lancaster, is ruled out due to the head injury suffered in the 21-8 win against Argentina a week ago.
Indeed, this is the first time the Harlequins star has not played since Australian Jones took over after the 2015 World Cup.
It means Watson, who featured on the wing in all three of the British Lions games against New Zealand earlier this summer, is switched from out wide, taking on the No 15 role as he did when Brown departed injured last Saturday.
Although no one expects Brown’s fine international career coming to an end just yet – the competitive 32-year-old is playing as well as ever – his team-mate will fully realise this is a great opportunity to press his claims for the position in the long-term.
And Greenwood, the former England centre who won the World Cup in 2003, is keen to see how 23-year-old Watson adapts when taking on this rare chance.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “Watson’s got great footwork, genuine speed, pace and real attacking quality.
“But also we need to see the other side of the coin, essentially what Mike Brown brings to the equation.
“Remember, full-back is your last line of defence – it’s your goalkeeper. There are very few better than Mike Brown under the high ball, making that last tackle or getting in the way or over the ball.
“No one doubts Watson’s attacking game but England’s full-back has to be defensively solid as well and that’s going to be the biggest test, the biggest box for him to tick.
“Everyone can see how good he is going forward but how good is he at the back?
“Australia will test him, too, especially with the way (Kurtley) Beale comes into the line from full-back at first or second receiver and the power of their centres and speed of those widemen.
“They are very influential and they have a really enjoyable backline to watch. Obviously England will want to limit the amount of ball they get and it’ll need a great defensive effort. If Watson can answer these questions, then he can certainly challenge Brown in the long-run for that role.”
Watson deputised and acquitted himself well last week after Brown’s concussion and if he can repeat that showing against Australia – a far better opponent than the Pumas – then he will give Jones plenty to ponder.
Today’s appointment is an ideal chance to demonstrate his quality given the array of talent that will be looking to strike against the Red Rose. Admittedly, England have dominated this fixture in recent years, winning six of the last seven meetings since 2013 and losing just twice since 2010, but the Wallabies are threatening to end that this afternoon.
They have found some form of their own in recent months, Jones indeed deeming them the world’s form team given a seven-match unbeaten run.
Australia are currently seeking a fifth successive win and have beaten world champions New Zealand in that sequence although, clearly, England’s scalp at Twickenham is the one they desire more than anything.
A veteran of 55 caps himself and some notable battles with England’s old foes, Greenwood believes it is good for the game that Australia are a force again.
He said: “It is good for the game as there’s an argument that the All Blacks home games aren’t actually sold out any more because no one gives them a game in New Zealand.
“But all the top teams really want to see the top teams against each other. We want it to be competitive and we all know Twickenham Saturday will be sold-out.
“The champagne will be flowing in the car park, the pints will be flowing under the West Stand and, if the weather stays good, everyone should be treated to a really great game.”
Kyle Eastmond has finally shaken off his nasty Achilles injury and will make his first Wasps appearance in nine months in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash with Newcastle.
England centre Eastmond has been sidelined since February, enduring a frustratingly protracted recovery after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
Now the 28-year-old playmaking centre will return to action to ease Wasps’ chronic injury concerns, in the weekend’s Ricoh Arena encounter.
Gaby Lovobalavu has beaten a calf issue and Kearnan Myall an ankle problem, leaving Wasps rugby director Dai Young pleased to see players back on their feet.
“It’s great to have three more players back from injury and we’re looking forward to seeing them in action as they start to build match sharpness,” said Young.
Luther Burrell and Rob Horne will combine in the centres as Northampton take on Worcester at Sixways on Saturday.