The Wallabies need their halfback-axis to produce a match-winning performance against England at Twickenham on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
England along with New Zealand have been a class above the chasing pack over the past 18 months, but it can be argued that the Wallabies – based on opposition, performances and results – have emerged as the in-form Test team in 2017.
England have beaten the Wallabies in eight of the last 10 Tests between them, dating back to 2010. This run includes an English clean sweep of the Wallabies in 2016, when Eddie Jones’ men won the mid-year series in Australia 3-0 before edging the Wallabies in a return game at Twickenham in December.
Regardless of those impressive statistics, England should be wary of this Wallabies team, which is on an upward trajectory.
Despite the obvious lack of player depth and other limitations imposed on rugby union Down Under, Australia have improved in leaps and bounds this year and are a far cry from the punching bags they were reduced to in 2016.
Michael Cheika’s side came within two minutes of upsetting the All Blacks in Dunedin in August, only to be denied by a Beauden Barrett intervention. The Wallabies built on that display, beating New Zealand 23-18 in the third Bledisloe Cup Test in October.
It has always been clear there is no love lost between England and Australia, but the two camps have surprisingly restrained themselves from engaging in a verbal spat in the lead-up to Saturday’s match.
Instead, coaches Eddie Jones and Michael Cheika have showered each other with praise, while England prop Mako Vunipola has issued his teammates with a stern warning to up their game against Australia or risk losing at home for the first time since the 2015 World Cup.
Last week, the Wallabies comfortably recorded a 13th successive win over Wales thanks to the magnificent game-management skills of Will Genia and Bernard Foley. By contrast, England’s lackluste performance against Argentina unleashed the full wrath of Jones, who launched a foul-mouthed attack directed at his own players.
After a sustained slump in form followed by a stint in France, Genia has returned to the Wallabies fold a rejuvenated player. His personal battle with the tactically astute Ben Youngs will be crucial in determining whether Australia will avoid a record-equalling fifth straight defeat against their hosts.
Another vital factor will be Foley’s goal-kicking. England have sharpshooter Owen Farrell back in their team and the Wallabies will need him to at least match Farrell’s accuracy off the tee.
All things considered, it should be an enthralling Test with England as slight favourites to win, but the Wallabies should not be discounted.
England – 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Danny Care, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Semesa Rokoduguni.
Wallabies – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs (one to be omitted): 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Ben McCalman.
Photo: Stuart Walmsley/RUGBY.com.au