England face Australia in Twickenham on Saturday night knowing that they must win in order to keep their World Cup alive. Brian Barry argues that Stuart Lancaster’s side will bounce back from their loss to Wales last week, and defeat the Wallabies.
Recent ties would suggest that Australia are a good match-up for England. Out of the last five clashes, England have won four. For a side like Australia to have just a 20% record against any top tier nation is poor. Stuart Lancaster has outwitted the Wallabies on the last two occasions, and will feel that he has their number this time around too. The English have also defeated the Aussies in their last three clashes at a World Cup. History makes for grim reading from an Australian point of view.
Dominance in the scrum
England, particularly at Twickenham, are notorious for enjoying physical dominance up front, and keeping the scoreboard ticking over from the kicking tee. In truth, this worked a treat against Wales last week, and were it not for the Red Rose taking their foot off the peddle, they would remain on course to top Pool A.
Joe Marler, Tom Youngs, and Dan Cole represent a world-class scrummaging unit, and with home advantage, are likely to cause any team huge problems. They face up against a side who traditionally struggle at the set-piece. The popularity of Australian Rules and Rugby League among other factors dictate that traditionally, Australia have never had a powerful scrum. Scott Sio, Stephen Moore, and Sekope Kepu are not the weakest front row the Aussies have ever produced, but they will still struggle to hold their own.
Cometh the hour
England have a proud history at the World Cup. The less said about 2011, the better, but on paper, a quarter-final exit in the Southern Hemisphere to eventual finalists is not all that catastrophic. This followed two consecutive final appearances, winning in 2003. Reaching the 2007 show-piece was the most unlikely of feats, with very few giving them a chance of defeating Australia, or getting past France in their national stadium. England have a record of delivering on the biggest stage, and have a do-or-die game tomorrow night to keep dreams of a second Webb Ellis Trophy alive.
This may be a strange point, considering that Owen Farrell was drafted in before the Wales game, despite George Ford starting at 10 for the whole of 2015. However, when the chips were down against Wales, Farrell performed. Under captain’s orders, he did not go for a three point equaliser, and perhaps a more experienced fly-half would have demanded the chance to take on the kick. Nevertheless, despite the controversy surrounding his selection, the Saracens youngster played well. The main positive from a dark night for English rugby was Farrell’s relationship with Ben Youngs. Their cooperation and inter-play left Wales with no reply for the majority of the game.
Meanwhile, Michael Cheika does not appear to have known his best half-back pairing up to this. Not giving up hope on the enigmatic Quade Cooper, he started the New Zealand born fly-half in many of their games this year. However, he has gone for the more reliable option in Bernard Foley, who starred in the Rugby Championship victory over the All-Blacks. At nine, Will Genia is selected, playing just his second game alongside Foley in 2015. Injury to Genia saw Nick Phipps and Nic White battle for the starting role. The majority of Foley’s caps have been alongside Phipps, his Waratahs teammate. A new partner at scrum-half is always a challenge for a fly-half, one he may yet rise to.
Nonetheless, Farrell and Youngs seem to have a more settled understanding of the two pairs, and this could be telling.
England come into this tie with the benefit of playing more games at a higher tempo this season. Last week’s game with Wales, and warm-ups against France and Ireland mean that Stuart Lancaster’s side are tuned into the intensity that this game will bring. Australia meanwhile have not played a top tier nation since their heavy Bledisloe Cup defeat at the start of August. Two months out of intense game-time may mean that the Aussies will start slow, and if England are on the front foot early in a game, they are more than capable of opening a lead.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.