Preview: England vs Wallabies
- 01 Nov 2013
Australia will be looking to build on promising recent performances when they face England at Twickenham.
Ewen McKenzie's rough start to life as Wallabies coach finally appears to be levelling off – after all, not many teams score 33 points against the All Blacks in New Zealand. That came after scoring 50 points against Argentina in Rosario. Sure, the Wallabies were awful beforehand, but bad teams don't score 87 points over two matches.
MAKING THE TOUGH CALLS
McKenzie led the Reds to Super Rugby success in 2011 on the back of not being afraid to make selection decisions that, from the outside, seemed unusual, yet paid dividends – like the inspired return of No 8 Radike Samo. His move this week to depose James Horwill of the captaincy after over two years in the role was reminiscent of that ruthlessness. Horwill has paid the price for some indifferent form in 2013 and the onus is now on him to come back stronger.
Not that McKenzie was done with interesting leadership calls ahead of running out at Twickenham. The previously 'toxic' Quade Cooper is now vice-captain, picked ahead of Will Genia, to guide Australia's backs. Cooper's performances since returning to Test rugby have been solid and have consistently improved, even if he is not yet back to his spectacular best.
Matt Toomua has edged out Christian Leali'ifano at inside centre to offer Cooper the necessary playmaking support, while Tevita Kuridrani is also a player to watch over the next month. It is no coincidence that his best performances in a gold jersey have come in Australia's best efforts under McKenzie. This is all before analysing the enormous threat posed by Nick Cummins – a try-scorer at Twickenham last year – alongside Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau.
The worry is Australia's pack. In the space of five minutes against the Pumas, Australia conceded five scrum penalties within 5m of their own line and lost James Slipper to the bin. The sixth scrum was turned over and the Wallabies cleared their lines, Argentina's heads dropped and the contest from that point was over as the Wallabies improved in the set piece.
Had prop Alex Corbisiero been starting for England, the hosts would be favourites at scrum time. Instead the Lions loosehead is missing with a knee injury and Mako Vunipola, a Lion himself but not regarded yet as an excellent scrummager, packs down alongside Tom Youngs and Dan Cole.
The loss of Rob Simmons takes away a lineout mastermind for Australia but gives them double grunt in the form of Horwill and Sitaleki Timani. Their front row will therefore have plenty of weight behind them, but it is a question of upfront technique. England have an advantage here, but a fainter one than if Corbisiero had been present.
England, as it happens, are without their own set-piece co-ordinator in Geoff Parling, a player who soared on the Lions tour to the point of becoming a Test anchor alongside Alun Wyn Jones.
The pairing of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes can be regarded as too one-dimensional, but Lawes has spoken of his desire to take responsibility with the lineout and has been calling the shots for the Northampton Saints this season in a bright start. England will hope his education has been rapid.
Away from the lineout Launchbury and Lawes, along with Billy Vunipola and Joel Tomkins, will all be essential to getting England behind the first line of defence.
Questions continue to linger over whether flyhalf Owen Farrell is the man to light a match under England's attack, which is where Billy Twelvetrees and Marland Yarde come in. Twelvetrees perfectly fits the Lancaster preference for a second playmaker in the No 12 jersey and is creative, but also defensively solid and not short of pace. The onus is on him to help increase the number of chances England create. In Yarde, England have a thrilling talent who cannot stop taking them.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Joe Marler, 18 David Wilson, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Ben Foden.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sepoke Kepu, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nic White, 22 Christian Lealiifano, 23 Bernard Foley.
Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Johan Goosen joined French club Racing Métro to develop his game and secure his financial future, writes GAVIN MORTIMER.
Rugby’s replay madness
The increasing involvement of the TV producer is beginning to have damaging consequences, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Burger’s big impact
Schalk Burger still has a role to play for the Boks, as a starter or substitute, writes JON CARDINELLI.