Preview: England v Australia

Fri, 01 Nov 2013 06:32
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Australia will be aiming to continue their strong recent form against England when the two sides go head-to-head at Twickenham on Saturday.

Australia will be aiming to continue their strong recent form against England when the two sides go head-to-head at Twickenham on Saturday.

While some pundits will look at the British and Irish Lions' 2-1 series triumph in June and July, this England side can't be compared to the combination put forward by the four Home Unions earlier this year.

Hence the confidence emanating from Australia as they continue their growth under Ewen McKenzie, who took over from Robbie Deans after the B&I Lions series.

The Wallabies have been successful in eight of their past 12 matches against England, including three of their past four at Twickenham.

Their latest victory over England came in Australia's second game of their 2012 year-end tour, a maiden Test try to wing Nick Cummins late in the game securing a 20-14 win.

There is also a realisation in the England camp that they can't rely on what happened in mid-year.

Forward coach Graham Rowntree may have spent June and July as part of a team that masterminded the B&I Lions' series win over Australia, but says England's pack will have to bring enormous intensity to prevail at Twickenham on Saturday.

Like Stuart Lancaster, Rowntree has been impressed with the manner in which new head coach Ewen McKenzie and assistant Jim McKay have given the Wallabies new-found belief and cohesion.

Citing the agonising 14-20 loss a year ago, England's forwards coach stressed that anything less than full focus and fierce physicality would almost certainly lead to a similar set-back.

"The closeness of the game and the ease of their tries last year [angered me]," he said.

"We gifted them their tries.

"We didn't handle the refereeing of the scrum very well, either, and there were situations where we could have had tries as well. Thomas Waldrom was a couple of inches from the line on two occasions, so to not have anything after the game after that was disappointing.

"It was a steep learning curve, especially in the breakdown department. They gave us a good workout there which kicked us on.

"This time round, our levels of breakdown intensity have to be up to that from the start – they are a battle-hardened southern hemisphere team and we've got to make sure we have good ball to play off at set-piece and speed of ball at the breakdown.

"We've also got to make sure we stop them having the same."

Although Australia captain James Horwill has insinuated in the press that England's scrum may suffer as a result of not having played together as an eight under the new laws, Rowntree downplayed that issue.

England's recent training camp in Leeds and the subsequent sessions at Pennyhill have included live-scrummaging, while each one of the front row forwards in Lancaster's 23 have become accustomed to the different sequence in the Premiership and European competitions.

And with a pivotal trio of Internationals starting this weekend, Rowntree urged the likes of Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury and captain Chris Robshaw to establish themselves as a significant force at international level.

"These next three games will be a good test of where we are in terms of our development," he added.

"We've got to reach a point where we are stopping being a young pack and become ‘the business'. On these three weekends, the intensity we bring will have a major impact on who wins."

There are some key areas for both England and Australia on which this game will hinge.

England will look to 'force' penalties at set pieces, look for line-breaks and a high percentage of successful tackles.

Dan Cole almost single-handed destroyed the Wallaby scrum in the 2010 series Down Under, which vindicated a truism of Test rugby – that the Australian scrum can be an Achilles heel. Adam Jones and Alex Corbisiero reinforced that theory for the B&I Lions in mid-year (although neither will be there on Saturday), but referee George Clancy will be keeping a very close eye on what is a traditional area of vulnerability for Ewen McKenzie's side.

If Cole and Mako Vunipola can exert enough pressure on Ben Alexander and James Slipper for the Irish official to act, position and (eventually) points should follow.

Outside centre Joel Tomkins may be on debut, but his significant frame and sleight of hand provide an off-loading prowess that has lit up the Premiership for Saracens over the past two seasons. If the league convert can transfer those skills onto the international stage, the likes of Chris Ashton and Marland Yarde – both bona fide predators on the wings – will thrive.

The hosts' defence will be under the microscope. Australia have scored 10 tries over their past two matches, with Israel Folau and Tevita Kuridrani demonstrating their potent combination of speed and size – traits that flyhalf Quade Cooper uses to devastating effect.

The benchmark for England's tackle success is set at 92 percent, so Chris Robshaw must demand both tirelessness and technique from his charges

Australia will look to their traditional strengths - the ability to beat defenders, a sound kicking game (yes, they do kick) and win at least 85 percent of set-pieces on own ball.

After humbling the Pumas in Rosario and running the rampant All Blacks close in Dunedin, Australia arrive at Twickenham with 10 tries and 87 points from their previous two matches. Under McKenzie, their patterns seem to have found verve and incision.

The well-established halfback partnership of Will Genia and Cooper – who have honed their understanding at the Reds for years – will also be expected to stamp their authority on Saturday's tussle for territory. Whether Genia from the box or Cooper from the pocket, both can be influential with the boot in open play.

Finally, as James Horwill has indicated in the lead-up to this Test, Australia must secure a foothold at set-piece for their backline to fire. Wallabies skipper Ben Mowen will hope absence of line-out technician Geoff Parling helps that, but the main onus is on the scrum.

Having played under the new laws together for months, they certainly have an advantage.

Players to watch:

For England: You start with rookie Joel Tomkins, a skilful player who will hope to transfer his Premiership form onto the international stage. Owen Farrell has not convinced all his detractors he is the real deal and this will be a good opportunity to silence a few more critics. Chris Robshaw's leadership. Courtney Lawes's physicality and the scrum prowess of Dan Cole are other key aspects.

For Australia: There is the attacking threat posed by fullback Israel Folau, obviously also Quade Cooper - now that he is vice-captain. It would be interesting to see how the leadership role impacts on his game. Will Genia you can never ignore, Ben Mowen will have to convince he is a long-term captaincy prospect, although he is likely to lean heavily on James Horwill and then Sitaleki Timani will have to ensure his huge frame is used effectively. He tends to disappear in games.

Head to head: There can be no more delectable duel than flyhalf, the two very contrasting styles of Owen Farrell (England) and Quade Cooper (Australia) - a big bruiser who enjoys nothing more than battering his opponent into submission, against a skilful player who uses guile and sometimes 'hides' on defence. However, the real battle may well be won or lost in the scrums - Dan Cole, Tom Youngs and Mako Vunipola (England) against Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and James Slipper (Australia).

Recent results:
2012: Australia won 20-14, London
2010: England won 35-18, London
2010: England won 21-20, Sydney
2010: Australia won 27-17, Perth
2009: Australia won 18-9, London
2008: Australia won 28-14, London
2007: England won 12-10, Marseille (World Cup quarterfinal)
2006: Australia won 43-18, Melbourne
2006: Australia won 34-3, Sydney
2005: England won 26-16, London

Prediction: This is a tough one to call, as England may well come into this game a bit underdone. Australia had the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup series, with their last game a fortnight ago when they showed some promise against the All Blacks. England last played as a team against Argentina in June, but that was without their B&I Lions contingent. The key will indeed be what happens in the set pieces. If the Wallabies hold their own, as we believe they may just do, Australia will sneak a narrow win - by less than 10 points.


England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3  Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Joe Marler, 18 David Wilson, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Ben Foden.

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nic White, 22 Christian Leali'ifano, 23 Bernard Foley.

Date: Saturday, November 2
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT; 01.30, Sunday November 3 AEDT)
Expected weather: Saturday starts fine and dry, but thickening cloud and a freshening breeze will bring some rain for the late afternoon. High of 14°C and a low of 7°C
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)