England are just 80 minutes away from sealing an historic series victory over Australia as they await Saturday’s second Test in Melbourne.
Last week’s triumph looked a distant dream for Eddie Jones and his coaching staff after an impressive opening from the fired-up Wallabies.
But a careful reshuffle and tempo change then saw England take a stranglehold of the game – in truth they blew their hosts away up front.
Maro Itoje took yet another step up the international ladder, announcing himself to the Southern Hemisphere with an excellent performance beyond his 21 years, while James Haskell, Owen Farrell and the front-row all enjoyed strong games. Farrell in particular was outstanding.
1-0 then with two games to play and while people may label Brisbane as Rugby World Cup revenge, that was not what this was for England as 2016 has been a new start, one that has huge potential. That’s seven straight wins this year as they continue to climb the World Rankings.
How do the Wallabies respond? Not having number eight David Pocock is a blow to their hopes of taking this series to a Sydney decider but if they do gain parity at scrum time, thus significantly reducing their penalty count, victory is definitely on for Stephen Moore’s side.
Michael Cheika has wielded the axe as out goes Scott Sio and Greg Holmes, possibly unfairly, but as he admitted “perception” played a part in his decision to bring in fresh props. They are James Slipper and Sekope Kepu, who possess a lot more experience at international level.
The first scrum is therefore going to be intriguing to watch and Craig Joubert must expect plenty of noise in either ear, one the sound of Moore and the other Dylan Hartley. Australia surely cannot endure such a bad day again which is why England may not find points so easily.
Lifting England though will of course be the confidence gained from Brisbane and also that their bench looks stronger this week. In comes Jamie George, Jack Clifford and Elliot Daly as they opt for a six-two split. No prizes for guessing how Jones wants to overcome Australia.
Differing styles again but to say England are limited in their game would be wide of the mark. This isn’t up the jumper stuff, but instead a power game that is complimented with dynamism and intelligence. It is winning rugby and could well win this series with a game to spare.
Players to watch:
For Australia: A handful of new faces come into the Wallaby XV, notably in the pack where James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Sam Carter and Sean McMahon are named. The latter was injury enforced and while a lack of David Pocock at the breakdown is a setback, Australia gain an impressive carrier in McMahon. Carter is also a workhorse who often doesn’t get the credit he deserves. But of course all eyes will be on the scrum and how Craig Joubert sees Slipper and Kepu go against their English opponents. Both are streetwise enough to do a job up front.
For England: Before the first Test a few concerns surrounded the 13 channel and how Jonathan Joseph – and also those occupying it in open play – would cope against the double threat posed by Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau. It didn’t look good from an English point of view early on as the Wallabies found plenty of joy before England tightened things up. Again though, stopping full-back Folau is key so Joseph, helped by the organising of the superb Owen Farrell, need to be on top of not only their own games but also others to avoid any mismatches.
Head-to-head: Both Michael Hooper and James Haskell stood out last week but for very different reasons. Hooper as always was an attacking threat and picked up two tries for his efforts but Haskell defensively was tireless. Helped by an early opportunistic shot on David Pocock, the English flanker grew from there in what was arguably his best performance in the white jersey. Eddie Jones will want more of the same.
Prediction: Belief, hunger, injuries and benches lead us to believe this series could well be wrapped up on Saturday. England by 5.
2016: England won 39-28 in Brisbane
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
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper
Replacements (three to be omitted): Tatafu Polota-Nau, Toby Smith, Greg Holmes, James Horwill, Dean Mumm, Wycliff Palu, Ben McCalman, Liam Gill, Nick Frisby, Christian Leali’ifano, Luke Morahan
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Jack Clifford, 22 Danny Care, 23 Elliot Daly
Date: Saturday, June 18
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 20:00 local (10:00 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)