The weakened England back row versus Australia looks there for the taking. Michael Hooper and David Pocock will be licking their lips.
Injuries to James Haskell and Billy Vunipola have robbed England of two-thirds of their favoured back row – a triumvirate that did so well against Australia in June. The Red Rose are also without Maro Itoje, who would have been a candidate to play at flanker, and have decided not to risk Jack Clifford – despite the Harlequin’s man of the match performance at the weekend.
Instead, Eddie Jones has selected Tom Wood and Nathan Hughes alongside Chris Robshaw. It’s a good job Robshaw, himself man of the match against Argentina, is in fine form.
Nathan Hughes is well below his 2014-15 best and is coming back from a knock. He looked sluggish when he came on against South Africa and Fiji, but at least he now reverts to his favoured position. Jones seems to have picked him for his abrasive attitude, but against the Wallabies, England need a ball carrier full of confidence. Ben Morgan, flying around the park for Gloucester at the moment, should be starting at No. 8.
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) November 27, 2016
Morgan is the nearest thing to Vunipola. Like the Saracen, he focuses his work on ball in hand and is a very good runner – either off front-foot possession, or off slow ball to kick-start the team’s momentum. This is the blueprint England used at close quarters in June, and it would have represented an important tactic on Saturday.
With Morgan, England could have kept the majority of their plans intact, confident that the Gloucester man would step up. He has never let England down and scored two tries against the Wallabies in 2014.
As for Tom Wood, he is almost in the team by default. His line-out jumping is useful, but with the set piece the least of England’s worries, this team could do with a ball-carrier on the flank. Fans have given up on Wood being a fetcher. He could be badly exposed by Hooper and Pocock at the breakdown.
In fact, given the absence of a poacher in the 23, a runner at openside would be the most effective way of thwarting Hooper and Pocock at the breakdown. Winning metres in the tackle and sending the defender backwards is more important against the Wallabies than versus any other international team. Even their premier duo will struggle to make turnovers if England consistently get over the gain line.
As for Teimana Harrison on the bench – he really needs a big game. He was a rabbit caught in the headlights for parts of the Argentina game, and we all know what happened the last time he played Australia.
What's with Teimana Harrison's head bobbing up in the scrum??! Get your head down and push, boy! #engvarg
— Deborah Lee (@debsylee) November 26, 2016
None of this would matter so much if Maro Itoje and Joe Launchbury were available in the second row. Both of these locks make a crucial contribution to England’s breakdown work.
Jones would have been better served by picking Robshaw, Clifford and Morgan, with Hughes on the bench. Without that carrying threat and with three players still to prove they are international class.
England could really struggle against the Wallabies.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena
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