Sparks should fly both on and off the field in Australia this June as the Wallabies face off with Eddie Jones’ England for bragging rights.
It is hard not to laugh at how the script has worked out for Jones, with their first tour seeing him go back to his home country to settle some scores. Then all roads continue to lead to Japan and his former job in Test rugby where England hope to push for 2019 World Cup glory.
Jones has already been the subject of a bag search by airport security in Brisbane, something he insists was “coordinated”, so even before a ball has been kicked in the series, the entertainment has begun. Throw in a Ben Te’o tug-of-war over his playing ties and we have drama.
Life will not be easy for England Down Under and they wouldn’t expect anything else but what is in their favour is that this is a Wallaby side with a few question marks hanging over it. Make no mistake, this is not the same hard-nosed squad that did so well in the World Cup.
They have lost a great number of caps in Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper while injuries account for Kurtley Beale, Henry Speight and Joe Tomane. While Samu Kerevi and Dane Haylett-Petty aren’t short on talent, they will be lacking in experience of Test rugby.
Michael Cheika also had the dilemma of where to deploy Israel Folau, who has been excellent in recent weeks for the Waratahs in the centre position. But, with the midfield offering greater depth in his squad, it was surely always going to be the case that Folau remained at full-back.
Arguably in a tougher boat was Jones and there wouldn’t be a team announcement without controversy as he opted to leave out both Alex Goode and Jack Nowell, the former is missing from the 23 altogether. Nowell is said to have not been 100 percent since the Premiership Final but that begs the question why he is named at all ahead of the Premiership Player of the Year. Jones will hope for no early injuries.
Stopping David Pocock at the breakdown will again be critical to England’s cause but there is more than a feeling that this forward pack will be the ones causing waves. Australia will get its first look at Maro Itoje while George Kruis, Mako and Billy Vunipola have been in superb form.
Owen Farrell is another growing as a player and it was wise to name him as the starting fly-half ahead of George Ford, not just due to his kicking game but also because of Kerevi’s presence off the shoulder of Bernard Foley.
So many ingredients and subplots to start the Test series then and whatever the result in Brisbane, expect the temperature to rise heading to Melbourne as both coaches will have more to say after 80 minutes. Thus far Cheika has been cool, calm and collected despite Jones’ comments. Whatever the result though there promises to be plenty of off-field words spoken, with the antagoniser role going to Saturday’s winner, as this series is set to run and run until June 25.
Players to Watch
For Australia: The powerful midfield of Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani will definitely cause England problems. Kerevi has been a line-breaking machine for the Reds and if he can offer subtle qualities in the 12 shirt, it could be his for the foreseeable future. Would he have started had Christian Leali’ifano been available all week? Probably not but in Test rugby when chances come, you grab them. He will.
For England: Where to best utilise Maro Itoje has been a hot topic for some time now. With Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes on the bench, the likelihood is Itoje will move to blindside in the second-half. But from the outset England will hope he continues his impressive lock partnership with George Kruis, with their dynamism set to assist the back-row a lot against the likes of Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
Head-to-head: Two captains collide at the coalface as Stephen Moore and Dylan Hartley clash. While some of the pre-game talk has seen the word “bodyline” used – hinting that England are going to go down the physical route – both skippers must keep a lid on their players. The referee is Romain Poite and Moore and Hartley will want to keep on the right side of the Frenchman, especially with an even scrum battle set to take place. Speaking of which, soon to be Exeter tighthead Greg Holmes‘ battle with Mako Vunipola is also one to keep an eye on.
Prediction: A touch of rust may be in the Australian game as they open their season and their visitors may squeeze the win. England by 3.
2015: Australia won 33-13 at Twickenham
2014: England won 26-17 at Twickenham
2013: England won 20-13 at Twickenham
2012: Australia won 20-14 at Twickenham
2010: England won 35-18 at Twickenham
2010: England won 21-20 in Sydney
2010: Australia won 27-17 in Perth
2009: Australia won 18-9 at Twickenham
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 James Horwill, 20 Dean Mumm, 21 Sean McMahon, 22 Nick Frisby, 23 Christian Lealiifano
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Jack Nowell
Date: Saturday, June 11
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 20:00 local (10:00 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)