George Ford could be just the player to spark some life into England's backline at Twickenham on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
England have been disappointing during the November Tests. Narrow losses to the All Blacks and Springboks would have you believe they are not far off the top two teams in world rugby. That would be wide of the mark. In both matches they failed to sufficiently test the opposition defence and were generally one-dimensional in their approach.
Their failure on attack was somewhat harshly attributed to Owen Farrell, and he has paid for it with his position in the starting XV. Stuart Lancaster handed young Bath pivot Ford an opportunity against Samoa, one which he grasped with both hands. Alongside captain Chris Robshaw, he was the best player on display in difficult conditions at Twickenham, where he showed great variation on attack and a willingness to take the ball to the line. He played a direct role in two of England's tries, while kicking two conversions and three penalties in a good all-round display.
It was a positive performance, but hardly one which would suggest all of England's woes are behind them. Lancaster is still clearly searching for his best midfield combination in the absence of Manu Tuilagi, while the handling among the backs suggest their skill levels are someway behind their counterparts from the southern hemisphere.
The Wallabies aren't short of great ball players. Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper came on to good effect against Ireland, while Matt Toomua produced some audacious offloads in a fine display at inside centre. However, the loss of Tevita Kuridrani will be a massive blow.
Michael Cheika's side are short on ball-carriers, and although Adam Ashley-Cooper is a solid replacement, he doesn't possess the same ability to get Australia across the gainline as the powerful Kuridrani. In other changes to the visitors' side, Rob Horne will take Ashley-Cooper's place on the left wing, while Sean McMahon makes a return at blindside flank.
The Wallabies will be desperate for a win to avoid their worst tour of Europe since 2005. They have now lost five of their last six Tests and have only beaten Wales in November. England haven't fared much better, losing five Tests in a row before their 28-9 win over Samoa at the weekend.
Stuart Lancaster has made three changes ahead of the last Test of the year, most notably at inside centre, where Billy Twelvetrees replaces the under-fire Farrell. Meanwhile, hooker Dylan Hartley and flank Tom Wood return after featuring from the bench against the islanders.
Both teams come into this match under growing pressure. With the World Cup less than a year out and Twickenham set to stage a crucial pool match between these two nations, Saturday provides the final opportunity to land a psychological blow.
For Ford, it remains an opportunity to prove himself against a side expected to challenge for pool honours. There is little doubt England will gain dominance up front and at the set pieces, but the performance of Ford will determine the outcome of this match.
He'll need to restrict Australia's counter-attacking opportunities with accuracy from the boot, while asking questions of their defence when he gets ball in hand. He's shown himself capable for Bath and against Samoa, but Australia will provide a sterner test of his mettle.
If he can subdue his nerves, and maintain his accuracy off the kicking tee, then there's enough about the rest of his game to suggest England will pick up a morale-boosting victory against their old rivals.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Wallabies 24, England 17, Drawn 1
In England: England 12, Wallabies 10, Drawn 1
LAST FIVE RESULTS
2013: England won 20-13 (London)
2012: Wallabies won 20-14 (London)
2010: England won 35-18 (London)
2010: England won 21-20 (Sydney)
2010: Wallabies won 27-17 (Perth)
FORD'S STATS THAT MATTER
5 – The number of Test matches he's played
1 – The number of Test matches he's started
84 – The number of points he's scored for Bath in the Premiership this season (Rank 4)
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 George Kruis, 20 James Haskell, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Marland Yarde.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images