Following back-to-back losses against New Zealand and South Africa – neither of whom they ever looked like beating – England will be looking to salvage some pride in Saturday’s showdown against Samoa and get their World Cup preparations back on track.
21-year-old George Ford will make his first international start at fly half, with Owen Farrell shifting into inside centre in place of the injured Kyle Eastmond.
Interestingly, Stuart Lancaster has also granted Ford the kicking duties, indicating that this is a genuine audition for the 10 shirt. Anthony Watson will be expected to make a greater impression on the wing than against South Africa, and Ben Youngs replaces Danny Care as the pair continue to battle it out to be first choice scrum half.
In the back row Ben Morgan, who barrelled over for a try at the start of the second half last week, and the experienced James Haskell replace Billy Vunipola and Tom Wood, both underwhelming so far this autumn.
Though England are almost certain to beat Samoa, who lost 24-13 to Italy a fortnight ago, the calibre of the performance will provide a key insight into the mentality of this England team a year away from the World Cup. Samoa’s physicality is unquestioned, but England must maintain their success at the set piece and, crucially, turn dominance in that area into points.
Furthermore they must not let ill discipline become a problem – though Dylan Hartley’s sin-binning last week was harsh, it was symptomatic of a wider sloppiness and put the game decisively out of reach.
England have now lost five on the trot and recorded only two wins in their last thirteen matches against southern hemisphere teams. A confident performance against Samoa will provide the springboard for the autumn’s final must-win game against Australia. A poor one could see the media amped up into a state of frenzy and sow yet further doubts in the England camp.