England will win despite the scrummaging controversy.
Since the England walked off the field as victors in Brisbane last weekend, the scrum has come to dominate the headlines. Whatever gripes the Australian media may have had with Romain Poite or Dan Cole, England were far superior at the scrum.
Saying that, I didn’t think Poite had a good game, I thought he was inconsistent throughout. He is not a great ref, but England were the dominant team.
After changing both their props, Australia also think they were dominated in the scrum, with James Slipper and Sekope Kepu coming in. Kepu in particular could be very dangerous, having spent a season being tested in the Top 14 with Bordeaux Begles.
The amount of column inches and time spent talking about the scrum will certainly put extra pressure on Craig Joubert. Australia have even gone so far as to attend a referees meeting called by England. These meetings are a box ticking exercise at the best of times, but it’s all mind games.
Lets not forget there was a scrum dispute during the Six Nations between England and Wales where Joubert was the referee. There is also history between Australia and the South African match official going back to their World Cup quarter final win over Scotland.
It’s not just Australia putting pressure on Joubert, England have said that he is the best referee in the world and that they trust him to make the right call. Both side are putting pressure on the referee in different ways.
Nevertheless, even if you remove the scrum from last week’s encounter, Owen Farrell and George Ford still bossed the game and England put a lot of pressure on Australia. Jonathan Joseph’s try came after England’s defensive structure exerted pressure on Australia until a mistake was made.
Paul Gustard’s fingerprints are all over the pressure based strategy implemented by England. It may not have been on point early on, but once we conceded those tries and replaced Luther Burrell with Ford, the defensive issues were resolved.
After that England’s pragmatic game forced Australia into some big errors. Joseph’s try came from pressure, and was the catalyst for Marland Yarde’s score.
Although you have to commend Australia’s accuracy in the opening fifteen minutes, the pace and tempo with which they played the game it is not sustainable. Once England replaced Burrell and addressed their defensive alignment, they shut Australia down.
James Haskell was key to this, his 18 tackles and 3 turnovers disrupted Australia’s momentum at key moments. Last weekend was not just his best performance for England, but the best he has ever produced.
George Kruis and Maro Itjoe were eqully important at the lineout, with Itoje in particular winning a very important turnover early on.
Although Joubert will penalise England if they try and slow the ball down too much, I still expect us to win by six. The pitch at the AAMI Stadium has been prone to cutting up over recent weeks, and this will benefit England, despite making it difficult for both sides at scrum time.
Despite introducing Sam Carter into the second row, I fully expect England to once again dominate at the line out. Paul Gustard and Eddie Jones will also have worked on the defensive issues during the week in order to keep Israel Folau quiet.
While Australia maybe favourites with the bookmakers, I fully expect England to make history.
Andy Goode, Pundit Arena