England manager Martin Johnson always laughs when a journalist asks him about ‘must win’ games. Well he would wouldn’t he as what coach would paint himself in a corner, admitting a match is must win. But this is the game that England must turn themselves into contenders, rather than nearly men. Once again in this fixture, the scrum becomes the pre-game focal point as Wales were the latest nation to get the better of Australia. But will that be enough to overcome Australia’s outrageously talented backs. It was in Sydney in the summer but not in Perth a week before.
Most of the bookies give England a 3-4 point start which I think is fair on current form, apart from the outrageous Blue Square and 888 Sport who give England an 8-point start. My advice is to get on board here as that is too good to miss, following up on my tip last week to bet England with a 12-point start.
Like Wales, England were also strong up front against their opening southern opponents, and that doesn’t bode well for the Wallabies. However, this week Martin Johnson has opted not to stick with the out-and-out bulk of Steve Thompson alongside Dan Cole and Andrew Sheridan, who all put in impressive set-piece performances against the All Blacks. Instead he rewards Dylan Hartley for his abrasive spell in the second-half. Some say he should be banned following an act on Richie McCaw…I leave to you to be the judge.
Hartley is the only change to the starting line-up made by Johnson while lock Simon Shaw takes the place of Dave Attwood in the number 18 jersey. The Wallabies meanwhile have gone for all but one of the XV that escaped the Millennium Stadium with an efficient win.
Then it was over to Welford Road on Tuesday with Robbie Deans admitting in the post-match he was impressed by that pack, but it cannot be downplayed just how the scrum could affect how things pan out on Saturday. We have witnessed in the past that English rugby’s HQ is buzzing when their eight is moving forward so Australia must step up to the plate if they are to allow Quade Cooper decent ball upon which to work his magic.
Another man enjoying his rugby at present is Kurtley Beale. It seems strange to label it as a ‘second coming’ as he is still only 21, but the Waratahs full-back has found something he didn’t have when he was thrown into the mix for his franchise back in 2007. Pace to burn and an eye for what is going on around him nowadays, he has also attracted praise from his own team-mate Drew Mitchell who is loving Beale’s ‘instinctive’ mindset.
Maybe he is the missing piece of the jigsaw for Australia, a squad that is developing into serious World Cup contenders ahead of next year. A further boost is a favourable draw as – going on form – they should avoid both New Zealand and South Africa until the big finale.
England also cannot be written off in 2011 if we are to study recent improved performances – last week’s effort proving that June 19’s victory in Sydney was no fluke. Despite this, Australia go into Saturday’s game as favourites with the bookies and one would have to agree rightly so. But whether they can front up at scrum-time and go some way better than their humiliation in Cardiff is the aching doubt. We all know they have the answers wider out.
The return of hooker Stephen Moore is the only change to the Qantas Wallabies’ squad to contest Saturday’s Cook Cup Test against England in London.
The Australian rake was a last-minute withdrawal from last weekend’s 25-16 win over Wales in Cardiff, succumbing to a back complaint during the side’s warm-up.
Moore’s naming reunites the front row that represented the Qantas Wallabies in the corresponding Test in 2009, with Moore (broken jaw), Ben Alexander (knee) and Benn Robinson (broken arm) ruled out of June’s two-Test series against England through injury.
Huia Edmonds, who was a late inclusion into last week’s squad to face the Dragons, retains his place on the bench, with Saia Faingaa dropping out of the match day squad.
Deans says Moore, who claimed man-of-the-match honours against England at Twickenham in 2008, will provide significant leadership within the squad for the Twickenham encounter.
“Steve’s a 50 Test-plus player, so he brings with him a wealth of experience,” he said. “He’s played at Twickenham on a number of occasions – including last year, as has our starting front row.
“We have 10 players returning from the corresponding fixture last year and that experience is invaluable. Twickenham’s a great venue to play; it’s the bastion of English rugby and they love to get behind their team and use the facility to their advantage, so the more guys that have played there the better.”
In addition to their front row, the Qantas Wallabies feature another nine players who were involved in the 18-9 win over England at Twickenham last year including Adam Ashley-Cooper, Mark Chisholm, Quade Cooper, Rocky Elsom, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Dean Mumm, David Pocock and Will Genia, who not only crossed for a try in that fixture but was also named man of the match.
Ashley-Cooper, who will move to within one cap of his 50th Test on Saturday, will again form a midfield partnership with Giteau, who scored all 20 of Australia’s points during the two sides’ last encounter in June, which England won 21-20 in Sydney.
Having starred for the Qantas Wallabies against Wales, man of the match and fullback Kurtley Beale will combine with wingers Drew Mitchell and James O’Connor in the Australian back three.
The retention of Edmonds leaves the Qantas Wallabies’ bench untouched from the one that fronted Wales at Millennium Stadium, including reserve forwards James Slipper, Dean Mumm and Richard Brown, and backs Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes and Lachie Turner. The seven-man run-on reserves list – along with Giteau – make up the eight player contingent who will back up from the Qantas Wallabies’ 26-15 win over the Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning AEDT).
Deans says last weekend’s match against Wales provided a strong foundation for his side to build upon.
“We’ll be better off on a number of fronts,” he said. “Not only will several elements within our game have benefited, but we won’t have to travel halfway around the globe at the front end of the week and we’ll be better for that as well.
“We’re under no illusions about what we’re up against this weekend. England played very well against New Zealand. They would have been hopeful for more out of that encounter in terms of the result, but they played some good rugby.
“We believe this will be a step up for us based on what we witnessed in the English performance [against the All Blacks] last week, and it’s important that we make that step.”
The Qantas Wallabies will endeavour to reach their 100-try milestone against England this weekend, having registered 99 touchdowns in 39 Tests between the two countries.
Ones to watch: For England: Not long ago he insisted that his bad temper was well-and-truly behind him. But last Saturday’s antics proved that Dylan Hartley still has a job controlling himself. This week he gets a start and will be looking to get under the skin of his opponents. Australia may be the ones looking to get amongst him though and rightly so as if Hartley doesn’t keep his cool then South African official Craig Joubert might be reaching for his pocket.
For Australia: I have already mentioned him. Kurtley Beale has made the number fifteen jersey his own over the past few months and possesses a step, pace and intelligence that saw Wales the latest to struggle with him. If he’s on his game then England are in trouble.
Head-to-head: You’ve guessed it, the front-rows. Dan Cole has shown time and time again for Leicester that he can mix it with the best and the return of Andrew Sheridan has been a blessing in the same way that Ben Alexander’s comeback has been to the Wallabies.
2010: England won 21-20 in Sydney
2010: Australia won 27-17 in Perth
2009: Australia won 18-9 in London
2008: Australia won 28-14 in London
2007: England won 12-10 in Marseille (RWC)
2006: Australia won 43-18 in Melbourne
2006: Australia won 34-3 in Sydney
2005: England won 26-16 in London
2004: Australia won 21-19 in London
2004: Australia won 51-15 in Brisbane
2003: England won 20-17 in Sydney (RWC)
Prediction: A tough one to call, but I can see David Pocock shining. Australia by 6!
The teams: England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody (capt), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 David Wilson, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Hendrie Fourie, 20 Danny Care, 21 Charlie Hodgson, 22 Delon Armitage.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (capt), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Mark Chisholm, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 James Slipper, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Lachie Turner.
Date: Saturday, November 13
Venue: Twickenam, London
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Christophe Berdos (France), Simon Mcdowell (Ireland)
Television match official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)