By Owain Jones, Rugby World Editor
AUSTRALIA HAVE made the short hop over the channel after their heavy loss to France still talking the talk, yet negativity seems to follow them like a bad odour at present with legendary Wallaby wing David Campese wading in earlier this week with some typically acerbic quotes saying ‘Deans had destroyed Australian rugby and I want him to go’. It was also hardly the best preparation to hear your talismanic openside David Pocock had pulled up lame due to a calf strain. However, none of this will worry Stuart Lancaster who knows there is no room for sentiment the Test arena. He will be focusing solely on building on last weekend’s heavy win and sharpening up England’s finishing skills. Then there’s the small matter of registering all-important win in the IRB rankings race, with both sides going toe-to-toe for inclusion in the Top 4.
Australia are missing most of their first-choice backline, through injury and it’s hurting them. No side could cope, with the possible exception of the All Blacks, with the loss of Will Genia, James O’Connor, Quade Cooper and now Pat McCabe and their lack of cutting edge has been keenly felt with their low try count in 2012. If that wasn’t bad enough, aforementioned talisman David Pocock’s is out and James Horwill is recovering from a long-term injury. Off the field, Robbie Deans has been dodging bullets from the media, the camp, notably from Quade Cooper, and the wider general public for a while now. The man who employed him, ARU CEO John O’Neill has also stepped down weakening his power base. Deans knows he needs results, and fast.
At HQ, it is a far more convivial camp, after last week’s surprisingly comfortable 54-12 drubbing of Fiji. Wing Chris Ashton will return to the scene of one of England’s finest victories in recent years, when he inspired the side to a 35-18 win with a majestic length-of-the-pitch try. It means Ugo Monye has had to give way. On their own patch, England have been strong, winning eight of their last ten games in TW2 and they will confident of adding another ‘W’ tomorrow. Australia’s away form has been as patchy as England’s home form has been convincing. They have won only two away matches in the last 12 months, against Wales and Argentina. It’s fair to say, advantage England.
Toe to toe
England will look to soften the Wallabies up at the Cole face, with Leicester tight-head Dan, now widely accepted as one of the world’s best pivot’s up front. Old-warrior Nathan Sharpe, fresh after answering another Wallabies SOS call, will need all his inspirational qualities to coerce the Australia’s front-five into gaining parity, and abrasive hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau will key to unsettling Youngs at Test level. For once, it’s out wide you can expect the fireworks, after Digby Ioane labelled the England boys ‘pretty’. Expect a fired-up Chris Ashton and on-form Charlie Sharples to do their talking on the field.
Prediction: All roads point to an England victory, and I don’t see an upset. That said, it will be no walkover, the Aussie have too much pride, I’m going for an England win by 6.
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday 17 November Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
England: Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Charlie Sharples, Toby Flood, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Tom Palmer, 6-Tom Johnson, Chris Robshaw (captain), Thomas Waldron.
Replacements: David Paice, Dave Wilson, Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Tom Wood, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Mike Brown.
Australia: Berrick Barnes, Digby Ioane, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Ben Tapuai, Nick Cummins, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps; Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota Nau, Ben Alexander, Sitaleki Timani, Nathan Sharpe (captain), Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu.
Replacements: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Radike Samo, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Mike Harris, Drew Mitchell.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)