Key Clash Preview and Prediction: England v Australia

International rugby returns to Twickenham this weekend in the form of an Australia team hungry for, and confident of, success over hosts England. Despite the Wallabies’ recent troubles, it should not be forgotten that in their most recent international outings, they put in a highly respectable performance against the All Blacks, and absolutely walloped Argentina in Rosario. While England did the latter too over the summer, the Puma team they faced included far fewer first team players than the full strength line-up Australia dispatched with such ease. On top of that, the Aussies won at Twickenham in 2012 so it is not a place that holds any fear for them. That said, this is their first game on tour and in that fixture last year – against France – they were completely dismantled. It was almost embarrassing.


The home side enter the autumn with plenty of question marks surrounding the team. Injuries to several key players – including probably England’s only potentially ‘world class’ players (Manu Tuilagi and Alex Corbisiero) and a couple just below that bracket (Tom Croft, Geoff Parling) – mean Lancaster has named some untested combinations. Even taking into account injuries, however, Lancaster has, rather uncharacteristically given his propensity for the ‘credit in the bank’ system, chanced his arm in a few cases. The biggest surprise is the selection of Lee Dickson over Ben Youngs at scrum-half. The Northampton man is the form scrum-half in England right now, no doubt, and although Youngs has looked sluggish at times this season he has done little wrong in an England shirt, and impressed for the Lions over the summer. Dickson does not have the sharpness that Youngs does – he will not score 90m wonder tries – but he is much more effective at getting the ball away quickly, which will hopefully give Farrell and Twelvetrees more time and space to put a dangerous back three in space.

Joel Tomkins makes his debut, and it will be intriguing to see if he can translate some superb club form to the international arena. He is not the dazzling runner that Trinder is, but he picks some excellent lines and is a deft offloader. If the likes of Yarde and Ashton can run support lines off him the results could be devastating. Up front Mako Vunipola will be under pressure at scrum-time after failing to assert any dominance over the Aussies in a Lions shirt this summer. Having a new second row pairing – Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes – behind him is unlikely to help either, and while they will lend huge mobility to the pack the set piece may well suffer.


The biggest surprise from the Australian selection is not to do with personnel – it is about captaincy. Ben Mowen, who captained the national team in the absence of Horwill and Genia during several of the Rugby Championship games, continues on that leadership role despite the presence of both more senior players. Equally as shocking is the promotion of Quade Cooper, again over both Horwill and Genia, to vice-captain. McKenzie must be hoping that Cooper, who has not been the most responsible of figures in the past, will raise his game with this extra challenge laid in front of him. Still, it will be interesting to see how Horwill and Genia play, having effectively been snubbed for both roles.

As has been the case for years now, most of Australia’s problems are likely to stem from their front five. None of them will be causing England any sleepless nights, even without the pillar that is Alex Corbisiero. Michael Hooper is a gem of a player in the back-row, and the Australian backs have the potential to wreak havoc if – and it is a big if – they can secure quick and regular ball. Tevita Kuridrani is a hard-hitting, offloading centre whose duel with Tomkins sees two similar players line-up opposite each other. Israel Folau at fullback is a genuinely world-class athlete, never mind rugby player, who has just about everything to his game and is looking – ominously for England – more and more comfortable in union with every game that he plays. Any loose kicking will be punished.

All eyes on

After several Six Nations cameos from the bench and a starring role on the tour to Argentina, Billy Vunipola gets his first start at Twickenham. A hugely effective ball carrier, Saracens’ decision to deploy him at blindside on occasion this season has seen a big improvement in his work-rate, as well as a a greater propensity to do the nitty-gritty stuff. Back at his preferred no.8, however, his role will be well defined: get England over the gain line. There are few better at doing that.

In the opposition back-row, Michael Hooper is an integral cog in the Wallaby machine. Given the well-documented failings of the front five in front of him, his job of disrupting opposition ball is even more vital. He is deceptively quick, too, which allows him to get to more breakdowns than he misses. England’s six-and-a-half duo of Robshaw and Wood will have to work very hard to keep him quiet and secure the home side quick ball.

Head to head: Farrell v Cooper

While Farrell’s experience with the Lions has certainly opened up his style of play somewhat, there is no doubt this is a duel of contrasting styles. Cooper, when on form, is one of the most exciting players to watch in the world – the problem is, he hasn’t hit that sort of form regularly for some time now. Still, he is capable of things others can only dream of, and if it pays off it can change a game. Owen Farrell will never throw a 30m reverse pass behind his own goal-line to start a length of the field counter-attack try, but he can be equally influential in a game. His goal-kicking is usually dead-eye and his passing game has been steadily improving. If he stands flat enough he can bring a potentially exciting array of strike runners into play – but that, again, is a big if, and having not played in an England shirt since the Six Nations he may take a while to get back into the swing of things.


Without wanting to bang on about them too much, injuries mean this game will be a lot closer than it perhaps would have been. The Wallabies will come into the game with plenty of confidence given their much more impressive form in recent games, and will be more together as a unit given it is the end of their season. I’d expect a fair amount of rustiness from England, leading to an early Australian lead. Farrell, however, will steadily eat into that lead and then win it late on for the home side. England by 4.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

20 thoughts on “Key Clash Preview and Prediction: England v Australia

  1. This “credit in the bank” issue being used to question the selection of Dickson over Youngs is a little misleading. We should not forget that Dickson has been in the squad for some considerable time now, training and on the bench as well as starting from time to time.

    I would venture to suggest that Dickson has been in more match day squads than either Youngs or Care over the last two years (I may be wrong, but I can’t be bothered to check).

    So, to me, this does earn him credits with the coaching team, as they have a very close look at him, and can compare intimately with the competition (Youngs/Care/brother Dickson etc), as indeed they would be able to with all of the players.

    The point is that these players are earning credits away from the prying eyes of the 80m internationals. The displays on the field of course, are very relevant, but the hours spent within the squad work in Bagshot or Leeds or Salta, or wherever they may be, are equally important.

    1. I’d be willing to bet he hasn’t been in more squads than Care or Youngs (but similarly can’t be bothered to look up stats) Based on the fact that much of the time Youngs and Care have been trading starting/bench spots

      That said, I think Dickson is there on genuine form. Youngs was injured and missed the first few games of the season, but I don’t think he’s shone since coming back personally and I think that Dickson has looked pretty sharp. I’d have liked to have seen Youngs returned to Tigers to get a bit more game time and some confidence back.

        1. that is also true, though I did mean I’d rather have seen him at Tigers last week to get another game under his belt and the opportunity to get some sort of form, but to have him at Tigers this weekend would be a bonus with everyone else who is missing

      1. Maybe Wookie. My recollection is that both Care and Youngs have been out injured for periods of time (or banned/reprimanded) and therefore Dickson has been part of the 23. hence, his “credit”.

        If we keep this going, someone will find the time to look it up :-)

        1. Remember reading that Dickson hasn’t featured for Eng since SA tour in 2012 – so I doubt very much he’s spent more time in the matchday squad than Youngs/Care! As you say though, he’s been around the set up for a long time now, so has more than earned his place.

          1. I have since read an article that notes Dickson saying that every get together last season ended with him driving home on a tuesday night, so my memory must be playing tricks with me.

            Still “credited” though.

  2. Jamie, I am not sure that Hooper is deceptively quick.

    I would say he is “obviously” and “exceptionally” quick :-)

  3. I expect to see both locks and especially Farrell putting massive pressure on Cooper. Farrell will hope to get in his face and wind him up a bit. If Farrell can achieve this, it could change the game, and put more pressure on Genia.

  4. Who are the officials this weekend? I think the selection is great and particularly like the bench and the way lancaster seems to turn this into a kind of mini special team designed for impact. As you very rightly say, Dickson will (we hope) get the ball away and wide quicker than Youngs does … let battle commence.

    I’m not Ashton’s biggest fan of late, but let’s get behind him and hope he’s back on form!

  5. I predicted a win for England by 12 points. I think England has strength in depth this year and although injuries will hurt them, it won’t do so as much as it would a lot of the other rugby nations.

    Australia, by contrast, have had a hell of a buising this year. They fought back in the last game against the All Blacks but I’m not sure their morale will be up to scratch to up against a confident and advancing English side. If England get an advantage early it could easily open a crack large enough Australia won’t fight their way back from it.

  6. I’m dubious about picking this one for England as I did with so much confidence last year while Australia were looking poor and England were on reasonable form. Again, England should be expected to win this one, but they have to execute well.

    Australia’s anticipation of winning the scrum because they’ve played more tests with the new laws made me laugh a little. They have more experience of going backwards and down under the new laws.

  7. One thing nobody has mentioned is the weather. Rain forecast which wont suit the Aussies (see the surprise home loss to scotland last year). Might not make for a pretty game though…

  8. I’d be disappointed if England don’t win this by more than 10 points for the following reason;

    1) We are playing at Twickenham;
    2) The Wobblies have not looked great against SA and NZ and have obvious weaknesses;
    3) England should not be losing to Oz at home after their bad season and two years out from a WC, or even letting them come close to winning;
    4) Lancaster’s squad must by now know the coaches game plan, so despite injuries and some selections this squad should be able to beat this Oz team;
    5) England must target a victory over the ABs later in the month and that means winning this game handsomely.

    If there is no improvement on last year then one must question both Lancaster and this teams ability to contest a semi final at the WC.

    Maybe wishful thinking but if the attitude is not to win comprehensively and dominate then we may as well write off the next two years to the WC.

    It starts tomorrow!

  9. I really don’t know how to call it… if England really turn up then they should win quite comfortably, but Aus looked good in attack in the Bledisloe cup even if they were well beaten, the QC at the heart of it. If England mumble their lines he will pounce and all this talk of him being targeted by Lawes well he’s had enough match time in rugby championship against SA & NZ to be ready for some hits to be fair. one side or the other by plus 10!

  10. Hi Guys.
    I’m playing rugby during the match tomorrow so won’t be able to watch it. Do any of you know if there is a web sight I can watch the match on straight after final whistle?

  11. Is anyone else worried that england may target QC through lawes etc and it backfire? He Is very adept at drawing the tackle and putting a man through the gap the defender leaves jumping out of the line. Just think if this is a tactic the brand new midfield may be tested positionally

  12. My head says Australia by 10. The main differences being:
    – England are missing some key players and although Australia aren’t without their injury issues, their world class guys are back in form.
    – It’s the first full England international for 7 months, some players haven’t been in an England camp for over 7 months, only 2 weeks prep time and some new combinations taking the field.
    – Not sure we’ve got the tight 5 to smash them upfront (the blueprint for NH teams getting a win over Aus)

    Fingers crossed we can carry on the style of play from the summer tour, with the pack we’ve picked I’m hoping we can run them ragged over the 80 and defeat them with tempo and workrate.

    Very excited to see what Yarde can do against top opposition and if big Billy V. can give us the go forward from the base.

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