By Alan Dymock
THEY MAY have had a horrid time of it in the Rugby Championship, but after a last-round thumping of Argentina and a much-improved showing against the All Blacks in a third Bledisloe bout outside of the quad-nation tournament, the Wallabies are in Europe and they look to have some semblance of form.
No one is getting carried away, of course, but the downswing of Australian rugby has been very short. This time last year they came to Europe and won three from four, including a win against England. Everyone was saying how terrible they were but they still won some rugby matches.
Yes, of course since then they have been savaged in a last game against the British and Irish Lions and were fed bits of themselves during the sometimes-uncomfortable-to-watch meetings with New Zealand and South Africa in the Rugby Championship, but after a few skelpings they have learned. It has taken this sometimes cute, but incredibly skittish young animal some time to realize that if it cocks its leg the Southern Hemisphere masters are going drop a hefty bundle of newspapers on its nose, but it has adapted. Now it is ready for a wee trip.
This will certainly worry England because the Wallabies have a little bit of fight again and there is no way that anyone can know which Australia will turn up. With Israel Folau looking to have found his home in the back-field for the Wallabies and with Quade Cooper ‘back’ there is a possibility the visitors can break out. They also have constants like Will Genia who can spook any fringe defence.
England host this possibly, slightly resurgent side before playing Argentina and New Zealand and they will have a centre pairing with an experimental feel, no Alex Corbisiero and a smattering of new names to break in. This is not to say they will not win, but they would rather have something that prepares them for the steady, breakdown-targetting ardour of the Pumas and the up-tempo, all-over assault of New Zealand. Instead they are going to be facing a team on the scramble and a potential sucker-punch every 20 minutes.
Stuart Lancaster will be happy for the various challenges of this calendar and he knows England are capable of beating Argentina, particularly as they are without Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. However, he would want the Australia that turns up to be one that he can build something against, not one that may turn it on, fade, turn it on again and then pull magic out of its hat or splutter to nothing. That will play havoc with the method and thought that can see off Argentina for 80 and battle against the Kiwis.
England will not get the same leniency they were afforded last time they played New Zealand and they need to get as much steady preparation for the All Blacks and the years beyond for that as they can. A possibly happier Australia really does throw something unpredictable into the mix and that can damage England, whether the Wallabies play well or not.