The Wallabies kick off their European tour this weekend as they head to Twickenham to be entertained by England on Saturday afternoon (GMT); Sunday 1:00am AEDT. It’s fair to say that it hasn’t been a vintage year for Australian rugby. Pipped to the post by the Lions in July, Australia dismissed their head coach and endured a number of disciplinary problems before putting in a pretty poor performance in the Rugby Championship, finishing third in the table, ten points behind South Africa in second.
With former Reds coach Ewen McKenzie now at the helm, the Wallabies performances have improved, but they will nevertheless be bitterly disappointed with the way 2013 has worked out for them, and will be desperate to salvage a bit of pride with a strong showing against the Northern Hemisphere sides.
First up for McKenzie’s team is the side that beat them to the 2003 World Cup, Stuart Lancaster’s England. The last time these two sides met – in the same fixture last year – Australia ran out 14-20 winners, and the Wallabies will be hoping that they can get their European campaign up and running with another win on Saturday.
What Sort Of Threat Will England Pose?
Games between Australia and England are usually pretty close affairs, and despite Australia’s recent problems, it’s almost certain that this one will be no different. Certain members of the England squad were privileged enough to be involved with the Lions, and that victory will have given them renewed confidence in facing the Wallabies on home soil.
In terms of style, the matchup between the two sides is very much chalk and cheese. England like to play a very formulaic game, with outside-half Owen Farrell directing his side around the field and ensuring that the big runners get into the game. With a very decent pack, Lancaster’s side will certainly look to use scrum and lineout to their advantage, and are likely to keep the game relatively tight.
One massive positive for Australia is that two victorious Lions are unavailable, with both Geoff Parling and Alex Corbisiero currently on the treatment table. This news is certain to have plenty of Australian fans sighing with relief as Corbisiero was of course the prop that made all the difference during the Lions tour, whilst Parling won plenty of plaudits for his work in the tight and loose whilst wearing the red jersey.
Although the absence of Parling and Corbisiero is a positive for Australia, it may signal a slight change in the way that England play. With Danny Care sent back to Harlequins, Ben Youngs and Lee Dickson are the two options at scrum half, and both like to run the ball. With that in mind Australia may have to prepare for a slightly more high tempo English game than they are used to and they should definitely be wary of the threat that both nines can pose. The last time Ben Youngs pulled on an English shirt against Australia he tore the Wallabies apart, and if England play like they did that day in 2010, they’re likely to make life very difficult for McKenzie’s side.
It also seems likely that England will target Quade Cooper. I’m sure most Wallabies fans would agree that having Cooper back in the 10 jersey is a positive thing. The guy is incredibly talented, and Australia just appear to have more options when he is at stand-off. Having said that, when Cooper plays, teams target him, and it won’t be any different on Saturday. If Cooper defends in the 10 channel, he will be subjected to a barrage of attacks from the English backrow, and he needs to have a good defensive day if Australia are to win.
Where Should The Wallabies Target?
Whilst we’re praising Ben Youngs, we should also highlight that when Youngs was matched up against Genia in the summer, he was poor, and Genia will certainly look to target his opposite number on Saturday. In fact, it would be prudent for Australia to attack both English halfbacks, with Owen Farrell also more than capable of losing his cool. If Australia can disrupt the English game at 9 and 10, they will have a much greater chance of being victorious.
England are almost certainly going to be awarding a debut to uncapped rugby league convert Joel Tomkins, and consequently it is crucial that the Wallabies attack the centre channel as much as possible. Tomkins has been in great form for Saracens and has devastating potential, but as we all know, the step from domestic to international rugby should not be treated lightly, and Tomkins may well struggle against Australia on Saturday. McKenzie’s side must target that 13 channel and look to pile runners into that area.
Tomkins is likely to be paired in the centre with Billy Twelvetrees, and although talented, Twelvetrees is not exactly the most intimidating physical presence. Australia must get big ball carriers like Tevita Kuridrani and Adam Ashley-Cooper into the game, and once over the gain line, they can give the ball to Quade Cooper to work his magic. If Australia can stick to this gameplan, then they’ve got a good chance of making life very difficult for England.
The other area that Australia could certainly look to exploit is the breakdown. Lancaster has made Chris Robshaw his captain once again, and with Tom Wood in scintillating form for Northampton Saints, Lancaster will almost certainly to go with the 6/7 axis of Wood and Robshaw. Fine flankers though they both are, both of them are true opensides, and this could swing the contest Australia’s way at Twickenam. With England playing essentially two blindsides and a big number eight in the back row, they don’t have anyone who can compete on the floor, and if selected, Michael Hooper could well run riot in the contact area.
Who is going to win?
Although Australia’s woes have been well documented, the Bledisloe Cup game in Dunedin showed that the Wallabies can still cut it against the best teams in the world. England’s last major test ended in abject failure as they were hammered by Wales at the Millennium Stadium, and although Lancaster’s young side look promising, they are still unproven when it comes to the major tests.
Australia will have arrived in the UK battle hardened after several months of international rugby and this may well be the difference at Twickenham. McKenzie has had a while to decide on his best team and his players are coming into form at just the right time. In my opinion, the Wallabies must be considered favourites for this clash, but it’s likely to be very close. One thing’s for sure, it’ll be a great game to watch. Roll on Saturday.