After last week’s bold performance against New Zealand, Lewis Moody’s side will look to turn the frustration from defeat at Twickenham last Saturday into an aggressive performance when the Wallabies come to town this weekend. How England came out of Saturday’s game depends on personal opinion; either they put in a brave performance and due to a controversial refereeing decision were unlucky to not come closer to a victory, or they wasted several opportunities and were never in with a chance after New Zealand scored 14 points within 5 minutes.
Although Australia beat New Zealand a couple of weeks ago in Hong Kong, it feels going into the game as though England have a better chance of beating the Wallabies this week than they did against the All Blacks. The reason for this is up front in the scrum. Whilst New Zealand have no immediate identifiable weakness, Australia’s main flaw has been obvious for some time. And unlike when facing New Zealand, England know they can beat Australia, having done so, for what it’s worth, only a few months ago in Sydney.
Still unbeaten on tour after seeing off New Zealand, Wales and most recently Leicester on Tuesday night, Robbie Deans seems to finally have his side clicking perfectly ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup. Last week’s victory over Wales in Cardiff was Kurtley Beale’s moment in the spotlight after James O’Connor the week before. They are without a doubt the best attacking side in the world right now. The most important fact to note about this Australian side is that their points average so far this year is around 27 per game. They can attack from anywhere, so as simple as it sounds, if England manage to stop Australia having too much possession, the less damage will be done on the scoreboard.
What to expect:
England showed last week right from the kick off that they were willing to run with the ball, and not just play for field position and rely on the set piece. However last week when England did kick, they made sure the ball was off the pitch, rather than supplying the lethal Mils Muliaina with ball to launch a counter attack. They will have to follow the same tactic to avoid feeding the likes of O’Connor, Beale and Drew Mitchell. England have as expected put a huge focus on the scrum, given how strong an area of success this has proven to be in recent times, but much like last week when Andy Sheridan went up against Owen Franks, he will face a similar challenge in the form of Ben Alexander this time around
Australia know that man for man, Chris Ashton and Ben Foden aside perhaps, they have more pace across the backline, especially in the centres. Adam Ashley-Cooper’s try against New Zealand in Hong Kong showed what a threat he poses in the midfield, and if he can leave Dan Carter and Ma’a Nonu in his wake, then how will he get on against Toby Flood and Shontayne Hape? If England’s aim is to starve Australia of quick ball, the Wallabies will be going for the polar opposite. Quick ball for Will Genia and Quade Cooper, and England are in trouble.
All eyes on:
Searching for England’s key man on Saturday afternoon is not as hard as it might seem, given that he is the first man on the team sheet. Andrew Sheridan gave Al Baxter a torrid afternoon at Twickenham and in the World Cup quarter-final in 2007. Whilst it will be Ben Alexander in the number 3 shirt on Saturday afternoon, the Aussie scrum still creaks as well as ever, as Wales showed last weekend in Cardiff. The importance of Sheridan getting on top is paramount given that Australia have an advantage in every other part of the pitch. If Flood can keep the scoreboard ticking over as a result of England’s hard work at scrum time, then they are certainly in with a chance.
For Australia, one man is worth the admission fee alone: James O’Connor. Fast emerging as one of the world’s top players, the young Wallaby can play anywhere across the back line, though he seems to have become settled in the number 14 shirt for the Green and Gold. What sets O’Connor apart is his composure for such a young guy; don’t forget this is a player who made his Super Rugby debut at the age of 17, and Australia debut aged just 18. He has pace, vision, subtle hands, and is not afraid to step up when it matters most – just look at his last-minute conversion to beat the All Blacks last month. A real superstar in a backline full of talent, it is no surprise that England will plan to keep the Wallabies from getting their hands on the ball. He is an enormous threat.
Head to head: Lewis Moody v David Pocock
Last week’s head to head in the preview for the game against the All Blacks focused on Lewis Moody’s battle with Richie McCaw, and he features again this time round as on Saturday afternoon, he will come up against another young Wallaby with the world at his feet, David Pocock.
Moody did well last week considering it was only his second game back after a nasty eye injury, and he’d only had one warm-up game prior to taking on McCaw. He looked a little off the pace at times in the loose, but you could argue that was to be expected given the intensity of the test match. One thing that is clear is that his presence on the pitch is essential to England’s progress as a team. Hendre Fourie is providing healthy competition on the bench in order to keep Moody looking over his shoulder, but as captain he has been a crucial part of England’s recent improvement. As he has done so often done, he will need to leave everything out on the pitch against the tenacious Pocock.
Much like McCaw in terms of his abilities to snaffle ball at the breakdown, Pocock also possesses impressive strength. He makes turnovers look easy, and as he proved last Saturday in Cardiff, is very hard to stop from close range if gunning for the try line. Aged only 23, he is still learning his trade, but you sense that the best is still to come, which is a concern for anyone who doesn’t support the Western Force or Australia. Expect him to be used frequently on first phase ball to open up the space for others, and offload in the tackle. He will no doubt be looking forward to renewing his battle with Moody following their duel in Australia in the summer, and that loss in Sydney is likely spur him on even more.
Weather: Clear skies and sunshine, which comes as a surprise after the wind and rain so far this week. Great for Australia. Bad news for England.
Last year’s result: England 6 – Australia 18, 7th November 2009
SportGuru prediction statistics: England 49.62%, Australia 50.03%, Draw 0.34%
Given England’s spirited effort last weekend, this game has been made that much harder to predict. For all the positives however, they failed to take many chances when on offer. New Zealand, their five minute blitz aside, were not at their best last weekend, yet still won comfortably, and Australia will not be so wasteful if the opportunities arise. As much as I want, and England need, to win this one, the Wallabies have too much firepower behind the scrum. Australia by 5.
Expert’s view: Tom Palmer[podcast]/Podcasts/TomPalmerPreAus.mp3[/podcast]
What are your thoughts? A must-win game for England, but can they do it?