Winners and losers from England’s autumn Tests

Freddie Steward, Courtney Lawes and Adam Radwan

England’s month’s work saw some players shoved firmly into the autumn of their Test careers, while others lit up Twickenham like sparklers.

As coach Eddie Jones prepares for a fascinating Six Nations in the new year and a Rugby World Cup in two years, whose stock has risen and fallen in victories over Tonga, Australia and South Africa?

Here are some of the main market movers:

Freddie Steward

Freddie Steward
Steward, like fellow new face Marcus Smith, has impressed on his first top-level run of games for England

As he picked up the man-of-the-match award after the win over world champions South Africa, the Leicester full-back admitted that the last time England had played the Springboks he had been watching from a student bar. The 20-year-old seems set to take in the next decade of England Tests from far closer to the action.

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At 6ft 5in even before take off, he ruled the skies under the high ball and joined the backline as a strong, pacey runner, crossing for tries against the Boks and Wallabies. Former England full-back Mike Brown revealed earlier this year that he had fallen out with Jones in 2019external-link when the England coach pigeon-holed him as a defensive player.

Even allowing for his being twisted inside out by Tonga’s Telusa Veainu, there is no question that Steward has got game either side of the ball.

Courtney Lawes

Courtney Lawes
Lawes greets former Northampton team-mate and another England captain Dylan Hartley after the Tonga game

Joe Marler described Lawes as “the people’s captain” after the win over South Africa and, in the absence of the injured Owen Farrell, the 32-year-old roused the rabble to great effect.

His leadership is based on deeds rather than words and his all-action performances have been worth any amount of rhetoric.

His lung-busting last-ditch tackle to keep Tonga try-less was one of the plays of the series, but he got through a mountain of less eye-catching work, felling lumber around the fringes, and trucking up ball as a much-improved carrying option.

Victory over South Africa was a particularly pleasing way to end his series after being one of the few tourists to impress for the Lions in the summer. His own belief that his best is still to comeexternal-link might be more than a standard soundbite.

Henry Slade

Henry Slade
Slade played a key role in two of England’s three tries against the Springboks

If incoming fly-half Marcus Smith is the poster boy for England’s new readiness to run the ball, Henry Slade might be the backline incumbent to benefit most.

Against South Africa, the 28-year-old was making his 43rd appearance for England. It might well have been his best yet.

Without the injured Owen Farrell and, for much of the match the also injured Manu Tuilagi, he marshalled the backline superbly.

His bullwhip pass opened the way for Tuilagi’s opening try and a cloak-and-dagger pop to Joe Marchant sparked Raffi Quirke’s second-half score.

His ghosting lines and clever distribution help oil the wheels of this more mobile England machine.

Adam Radwan

Adam Radwan
Radwan scored a hat-trick of tries in a debut rout of Canada in the summer

The Newcastle flier’s scorching pace make him a fans’ favourite. The headline stats are pretty eye-catching as well. He scored a hat-trick on debut against Canada and crossed after just three minutes against Tonga.

But Jones, who admitted he thought that the 23-year-old was still short of Test standard in the first few days after his summer call-up, appears to have his reservations.

He instead chose to pick Tuilagi and Marchant, both more normally centres, on the wing against Australia and South Africa, with Max Malins’ versatility, kicking and backfield know-how preferred on the bench.

Maverick Jones seems to feel the need for more than raw speed.

Mako Vunipola

Mako Vunipola
Vunipola, whose Saracens contract is up at the end of the season, has been linked with a move to France that would effectively put him out of England contention

Even when illness and injury reduced England to back-up front-row options in the final week of the autumn, the call for Vunipola never came. The 30-year-old, previously one of the pillars of the team’s set-piece, seems to have been designated as yesterday’s man with Bevan Rodd’s energy overcoming any doubts about the Sale man’s inexperience.

Vunipola’s Saracens team-mate Jamie George was called up after initially being left out of the autumn squad. But fellow outcasts George Ford, Vunipola’s brother Billy and Mako himself will have seen how abruptly the careers of Brown, Danny Care and others have ended. The comeback trail can be hard to find under Jones.

Ben Youngs

Ben Youngs
Youngs is just two England caps behind men’s all-time leader Jason Leonard

An ever-present during the autumn, but even 112-cap Ben Youngs is not insulated against the winds of change. The 32-year-old’s game doesn’t have the snipe and snap of the past. His kicking has been wayward.

Harry Randall’s injury denied the Bristol scrum-half the chance to dislodge Youngs this autumn, but Quirke made his case in a cameo against South Africa with a smart support line for the winning try. Would Youngs have been as well placed to turn Joe Marchant’s break into seven telling points?

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