Preview: England v Australia

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 06:42
Large england forwards gather 800

MIND GAMES: England coach Eddie Jones believes his side are now at their most vulnerable as they go in search of a record-equalling win against his native Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.

Victory in the final Test of the year will see England draw level with their national record of 14 consecutive wins set in 2002-03 under the regime of Clive Woodward, whose side went on to beat an Australia team coached by Jones in the 2003 World Cup Final in Sydney.

In June, England whitewashed the Wallabies 3-0 in Australia but Jones said that would make them even more dangerous opponents, with the tourists desperate to atone for a 24-27 defeat by Ireland last weekend that scuppered their hopes of a Grand Slam.

"I think it makes us more vulnerable and them more hungry. Whenever you get beaten your attention is more and you want it more. When you have had some wins, your appetite is pretty full and it's a test of the mindset on Saturday," Jones said.

Jones said the example of boxing great Muhammad Ali was one England should follow to maintain their drive.

"To be the best in the world you have to be like Ali and go for those road runs every morning at 05.00 when no one notices. You have to have the relentless desire and pursuit of excellence," he added.

England have won all 12 of their Tests under Jones, appointed after a World Cup where a victory over Uruguay came too late to prevent coach Stuart Lancaster getting the sack, with the tournament hosts having failed by then to qualify for the knockout phase.

Having been without up to seven first-choice players during the end of year series, England are now missing forwards James Haskell, Maro Itoje and key No.8 Billy Vunipola, who suffered a knee injury during last week's 27-14 win over Argentina - a match where wing Elliot Daly saw red for a dangerous tackle.

Nathan Hughes, set to make his full debut, replaces Vunipola, with Marland Yarde in for the suspended Daly.

All the verbal jousting this week between Jones and Wallaby boss Michael Cheika, his former teammate at Sydney club Randwick, over the 'illegality' of the other side's scrum has been reminiscent of the now Red Rose coach's spats with Woodward.

"This week's been fun,. The media's had fun, good headlines. Cheika's had fun and everyone's enjoying it. It's great for rugby. There's nothing better than an Australia-England rivalry is there? I think it's fantastic," Jones stated.

But he added that England's defence would face its toughest test yet from an Australia attack revitalised by assistant coach Stephen Larkham.

"Steve's done a great job. I thought he got swayed by New Zealand in June and went down a route that sent the Australians away from playing the Australian way. I think he's got that back.

"Their attack is definitely more threatening. Bernard Foley's back to his form, attacking the line, Tevita Kuridrani at 13 and Reece Hodge at 12 has done pretty well for a young kid. They've got big wings. Obviously [fullback Israel] Folau is always a big threat," he added.

Cheika has made four changes to his side, with wing Sefa Naivalu, scrumhalf Nick Phipps, back row forward Lopeti Timani and lock Kane Douglas all recalled.

And while Jones feared his team were vulnerable, Cheika - publicly at least - saw few signs of weakness in either Fiji-born Hughes or England.

"He's a big man and he's a powerful runner and a strong tackler. I don't see any vulnerabilities there. Thirteen [wins] in a row,  it's pretty hard to see any vulnerabilities there in the opposition," Cheika said.

Players to watch:

For England: Owen Farrell will look to pin Australia in their half with his tactical kicking while ticking over the points with kicks at goal. The loose trio of Nathan Hughes, Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw will need to be at their best at the breakdowns to slow down Australia's ball. All eyes will be on Mako Vunipola to see if he can continue his rich vein of form.

For Australia: Israel Folau is always a threat under the high ball and with ball in hand. Tevita Kuridrani will look to use his size to break the advantage line and get Australia going forward. Lopeti Timani, Michael Hooper and David Pocock need to sharpen up at the breakdowns and can expect a tough battle.

Head to head: With all the talk now done, it is up to the front rows, and scrums in general, to back up their coach's words and set a solid platform for their respective backlines. The battle at the breakdown will be one to watch as both sides have players who can turn the ball over in an instant. The battle of the halfback pairing is an intriguing one as they will set the tone for the entire contest.

Recent results:

2016: England won 44-40, Sydney
2016: England won 23-7, Melbourne
2016: England won 39-28, Brisbane
2015: Australia won 33-13, London    (WC pool)
2014: England won 26-17, London
2013: England won 20-13, London
2012: Australia won 20-14, London
2010: England won 35-18, London
2010: England won 21-20, Sydney
2010: Australia won 27-17, Perth

Prediction: The mind games started quite a while ago and Eddie Jones has certainly had Michael Cheika's number when it comes to winning that battle. However, the match is played between the white lines and it is up to the players to execute their skills. With pride on the line for England and revenge on Australia's mind, it is going to be a hotly contested encounter. Taking recent results into account, England should squeak this one by less than a converted try.

Teams:

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Henry Slade.

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 David Pocock, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 James Slipper, 18 Tom Robertson, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Henry Speight.

Date: Saturday, December 3
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT; 01.30, Sunday, December 4 Australia Eastern Daylight time)
Expected weather: The sun will be a little bit shy at kick-off. A high of just 7, with a gentle breeze.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland).

AFP & @rugby365com