Planet Rugby

Preview: England v Australia

31st October 2013 17:45


chris robshaw adam ashley cooper england australia

Elusive: Adam Ashley-Cooper

Two years out from the Rugby World Cup, Australia will look to build on promising recent performances against England at Twickenham.

Ewen McKenzie's rough start to life as the Wallabies' head coach finally appears to be levelling off - after all, not many teams score 33 points against the All Blacks in New Zealand.

That came after scoring 50 points against Argentina in Rosario, a number South Africa and New Zealand with their settled squads and coaching units didn't come close to when they visited South America. Sure, the Wallabies were awful beforehand a few weeks ago, but bad teams don't score 87 points over two matches.

McKenzie lead the Queensland Reds to Super Rugby success in 2011 on the back of not being afraid to make selection decisions that from the outside seemed unusual, yet paid dividends - like the inspired return of Radike Samo.

His move this week to depose James Horwill of the captaincy after over two years in the role was reminiscent.

Horwill has paid the price for some indifferent form in 2013 and the onus is now on him to come back stronger; which is bad news for England and the rest of the British Isles and Ireland over the next few weeks.

Not that McKenzie was done with interesting leadership calls ahead of running out at Twickenham. The previously "toxic" Quade Cooper is now vice-captain, picked ahead of club and country team-mate Will Genia, to guide Australia's backs.

When he was discarded by Robbie Deans this kind of promotion would have fetched long odds, yet Cooper has earned the responsibility. His performances since returning to Test rugby have been solid and have consistently improved, even if Cooper is not yet back to his spectacular best.

Maturity has not necessarily damaged Cooper's flair, but it has cut down the number of errors he makes. He remains a phenomenal talent and there is the sense that an astonishing performance is not far away. It could even light up Twickenham on Saturday.

Matt Toomua has edged out Christian Lealiifano at inside centre to offer Cooper the necessary playmaking support, whilst Tevita Kuridrani featured as one of our ten players to watch over the next month. It is no coincidence that his best performances in a gold jersey have come in Australia's best efforts under McKenzie. This is all before analysing the enormous threat posed by Nick Cummins - a try scorer at Twickenham last year - alongside Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau.

The worry is Australia's pack. In the space of five minutes against the Pumas, Australia conceded five scrum penalties within five metres of their own line and lost James Slipper to the bin. The sixth scrum was turned over and the Wallabies cleared their lines, Argentina's heads dropped and the contest from that point was over as the Wallabies improved in the set-piece.

Had prop Alex Corbisiero been starting for England, the hosts would be favourites. Instead the Lions loosehead is missing with a knee injury and Mako Vunipola, a Lion himself but not regarded yet as an excellent scrummager, packs down alongside Tom Youngs and Dan Cole.

The loss of Rob Simmons takes away a lineout mastermind for Australia but gives them double grunt in the form of Horwill and Sitaleki Timani. Their front-row will therefore have plenty of weight behind them, but it is a question of upfront technique. England have an advantage here, but a fainter one than if Corbisiero had been present.

England as it happens are without their own set-piece co-ordinator in Geoff Parling, a player who soared on the Lions tour to the point of becoming a Test anchor alongside Alun Wyn Jones.

The pairing of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes can be regarded as too one-dimensional, but Lawes has spoken of his desire to take responsibility with the lineout and has been calling the shots for Northampton Saints this season in a bright start. England will hope his education has been rapid.

Away from the lineout Launchbury and Lawes, along with Billy Vunipola and Joel Tomkins, will all be essential to getting England behind the first line of defence.

Questions continue to linger over whether Owen Farrell is the man to light a match under England's attack, which is where Billy Twelvetrees and Marland Yarde come in.

Twelvetrees perfectly fits the Lancaster preference for a second playmaker in the number 12 jersey and is creative, but also defensively solid and not short of pace. The onus is on him to help increase the number of chances England create. In Yarde, England have a thrilling talent who cannot stop taking them.

Ones to watch:

For England: It seemed likely that Lee Dickson would struggle to get a game for Northampton following the arrival of Kahn Fotuali'i, let alone for England. Instead Dickson has flourished. There is a new sense of adventure to his game and when it comes to all-round balance, he edges out both Ben Youngs and Danny Care. England boss Stuart Lancaster once again has picked on form and should be credited for it.

For Australia: How can you not watch him? Israel Folau has been the find of the year when it comes to Test rugby. With seven tries in his first ten matches for the Wallabies, Folau has beaten 35 defenders and made an average of 65.6 metres per game. The guy at times appears to be simply unplayable and is a megastar on the rise, in a year when with the troubles of James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale the Wallabies have truly needed one. When Folau states in the build-up to a game that he wants people to remember his performance, you pay attention.

Head-to-head: A rapid rise is something that Billy Vunipola and Ben Mowen share. The Saracens number eight finds himself starting for England after one full season at Wasps, a promising debut against Argentina and a strong beginning to life with his new club. Now he starts for England, ahead of a stuttering Ben Morgan, bringing explosiveness off the base of the scrum and providing an accurate imitation of a wrecking ball. He will keep Mowen busy, although the Wallaby will have enough on his mind when he leads Australia out infront of 82,000 at Twickenham. It is amazing to think that Mowen was once unwanted by the Waratahs. He moved to Canberra and the rest is history.

Recent results:

2012: Australia won 20-14 in London
2010: England won 35-18 in London
2010: England won 21-20 in Sydney
2010: Australia won 27-17 in Perth
2009: Australia won 18-9 in London
2008: Australia won 28-14 in London
2007: England won 12-10 in Marseille (RWC)
2006: Australia won 43-18 in Melbourne
2006: Australia won 34-3 in Sydney
2005: England won 26-16 in London
2004: Australia won 21-19 in London
2004: Australia won 51-15 in Brisbane

Prediction: Tricky. The Wallabies have momentum and confidence on their side, whereas England are arriving fresh but with brand new combinations everywhere. It comes down to how quickly Dickson and Farrell, Twelvetrees and Tomkins, plus Launchbury and Lawes all click. Showers are expected on Saturday which plays into the hands of Farrell and England's scrum. Should they contain Michael Hooper and get the edge in the set-piece then England can win, but Australia have a greater cutting edge in their backline. There are several variables but a minimal margin between the overall quality of both teams. Home advantage and conditions to swing it. England by five.

The teams:

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 (c), 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 (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sepoke Kepu, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nic White, 22 Christian Lealiifano, 23 Bernard Foley.

Date: Saturday, November 2
Venue: Twickenham
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

by Ben Coles

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