England coach Eddie Jones sprang a surprise on Thursday when he named powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi on the wing for this weekend’s Cook Cup clash against Australia at Twickenham.
Tuilagi’s only previous Test appearance in the position came on tour against New Zealand in 2014 and was not repeated by Stuart Lancaster, Jones’s predecessor as England coach.
The move, which means Adam Radwan drops out of the matchday 23, appeared motivated by Jones’s wish to field fly-half Marcus Smith alongside England captain Owen Farrell at inside centre.
Jones had thought of deploying the duo as a 10-12 combination during last week’s match against Tonga.
But he was prevented from doing so after Smith was only deemed fit enough to be on the bench and Farrell was sidelined by what turned out to be a false positive test for coronavirus.
Utility back George Furbank played at fly-half.
Now, however, the pair are set to start a match together for the first time, with Farrell making his 100th Test appearance — a tally that includes six caps for the British and Irish Lions — and Smith looking to build on a try-scoring effort during a 69-3 thrashing of Tonga after coming on as a replacement.
Smith, 22, is making his third Test start, after guiding under-strength England XVs to wins over the United States and Canada in July.
Jones’s forward pack was unchanged, with Maro Itoje set to win his 50th England cap on Saturday.
England will be looking to make it eight successive wins over the Wallabies under Jones, appointed after his native Australia helped knock tournament hosts England out of the 2015 World Cup.
Australia had been on a five-game winning streak, a sequence that included victories over world champions South Africa, until a 15-13 loss to Scotland at Murrayfield last weekend.
But Jones, Australia’s coach when they were beaten by England in the 2003 World Cup final, said: “We know this will be a tough test for us. We’re playing against a team who have been together a while and who have beat the world champions twice.
“As an Australian I know how much this game means.”
Freddie Steward; Manu Tuilagi, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (capt), Jonny May; Marcus Smith, Ben Youngs; Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Courtney Lawes; Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Ellis Genge
Replacements: Jamie Blamire, Bevan Rodd, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Alex Dombrandt, Sam Simmonds, Raffi Quirke, Max Malins
Coach: Eddie Jones (AUS)