This weekend sees the first of the Southern Hemisphere superpowers roll into town: Australia. So many things add extra intrigue to an already historic rivalry – the disquiet in the Aussie camp, at fever pitch after last week’s spanking by the French; the cautious optimism of England fans, daring to dream once again; the world rankings, so vital with the Rugby World Cup pool draw just around the corner. Everything points to an epic encounter, but who will come out on top?
Reasons to back England
‘Not bad’ was the general consensus after the Fiji game last weekend, but everyone in England, players and fans alike, know they need to step it up again this week. The front row in particular will have had this date circled in their diaries, the likes of Dan Cole and Joe Marler licking their lips in anticipation of a traditionally weak Aussie front row. They were schooled by the French tight five last weekend, and with Roman Poite (widely regarded as the best scrummaging referee in the world) taking the whistle, there will be nowhere for Robinson, Polota Nau, and Alexander to hide.
Out in the backs, the only change to England’s line-up sees Ashton take Monye’s place. Digby Ioane will be glad that England have dropped probably their sharpest looking winger, after bizarrely brandishing them ‘pretty boys’, but that is where the good news ends. Ashton has a habit of sniffing out the try line and will be keen to prove a point after the stirling work of Sharples last weekend threatens to dispute his status as no. 1 winger in the land. Once again Alex Goode’s performance will be scrutinised, and if he can make use of the space as well as he did last week England could be in for some tries.
Finally, it may be dangerous to say but this Aussie team looks a shell of the one that it has been in recent times. Shorn of key decision makers such as Genia and Cooper, and lacking the raw talent and finishing capability of O’Connor, the team seems to lack direction. From an England point of view there has, perhaps, never been a better time to take on Australia.
Reasons to back Australia
Having said all that, we have been promised a backlash, and it would be naïve not to expect one. Australia can’t really go much further downhill after last week, and the whole squad will feel like it has a point to prove. Let’s not forget that this is largely the same squad that managed a draw against the previously all-conquering New Zealand in the final round of the Rugby Championship. They caught France at their mercurial best, but there’s no doubt it’s a side that possesses no small amount of talent.
Kurtley Beale is, on his day, as exhilarating to watch as any player in the world right now. No one is in any doubt of his ability; it is his game management that will be under scrutiny. If he can control his backs and run the game then there is still an incisive edge to the Wallaby back line that could cause England problems. Digby Ioane may not be the sharpest in the pre-match mind games department, but he certainly knows how to score tries. His duel with Ashton is one to relish. Up front, the loss of Pocock is a huge blow, but young Michael Hooper will have a point to prove, back in the land of his ancestors.
It won’t be the runaway victory some people might be expecting, but I think this England team will win fairly comfortably. They should have dominance at the set piece, and secure the platform upon which they can punish the Aussies. England by 8.
What is your prediction for the game?