England co-captain Dylan Hartley has been benched for the first time against a top-tier nation since sharing the leadership with Owen Farrell. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

LONDON – Manu Tuilagi moved closer to a long-awaited Test comeback after being named on the bench Thursday for England’s concluding November international at Twickenham against Australia.

Also among the replacements was England co-captain Dylan Hartley – the first time the hooker has been left out of the starting XV by England coach Eddie Jones when available against a Tier One or leading nation.

Leicester centre Tuilagi was withdrawn from the bench on the eve of England’s nail-biting 12-11 victory over South Africa in their November opener with a groin strain, after sustaining the injury during a training session at the squad’s Portugal camp.

The powerhouse midfielder was set to make his first international appearance since 2016 against the Springboks after recovering from serious groin, knee and hamstring injuries, only for his groin to tighten up.

Jones has made nine changes to the starting XV that beat Japan 35-15 at Twickenham last weekend for Saturday’s clash with his native Australia.

Injuries to wings Chris Ashton and Jack Nowell have led to the recall of Jonny May, with Joe Cokanasiga, who played from the start in his debut against Japan, retaining his place.

Co-captain Owen Farrell, on the bench against Japan, is reunited with Ben Youngs as England revert to their first-choice halfback pairing. 

Meanwhile, Ben Te’o returns in midfield after Alex Lozowski was dropped. 

Courtney Lawes moves from the back-row to the second row alongside Maro Itoje, while Bath’s Sam Underhill, who starred against New Zealand a fortnight ago, is included at openside flank.

Jamie George, who started in place of Hartley against Japan, retains his place at hooker.

Victory over the Wallabies would mean England had won three of their four November internationals, with the only loss a 16-15 defeat by world champions New Zealand. 

Jones has won all five of his Tests against Australia since taking charge of England following their first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup – which included a group-stage defeat by the Wallabies.

“We’ve picked our best 23 for the Australia game,” said Jones.

“We know they have a unique style of attack, so our ability to defend that is going to be important. We are continually working on our strengths – which is our set-piece and our defence – and they are areas that are progressing nicely.    

“We are developing a unique style of rugby, which is English, and the players are proud to play that way.”

Despite leaving Hartley on the bench, Jones paid tribute to the “outstanding” leadership shown by the Northampton front-rower and Farrell in their unusual joint roles of co-captains.

“We have seen growth in the togetherness of the team, and I think we’ve seen that in the spirit in which they’ve played,” added Jones.

Thursday’s team announcement coincided with the 15th anniversary of England’s 2003 World Cup final win over an Australia side coached by Jones.

England Team

Elliot Daly, Joe Cokanasiga, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o, Jonny May, Owen Farrell (co-captain), Ben Youngs, Mark Wilson, Sam Underhill, Brad Shields, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Ben Moon.

Bench: Dylan Hartley (co-captain), Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, Charlie Ewels, Nathan Hughes, Richard Wigglesworth, George Ford, Manu Tuilagi.

AFP