Preview: England v Australia
On the back of contrasting results this past weekend, England and Australia are once again ready to collide at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday.
Last week England, while not great, put 54 points on Fiji while Australia fell to an in-form France XV that was in no mood to lose the physical battle.
The Wallabies have subsequently received a hammering in more ways than one after being outplayed, out-hungered and out-muscled.
The aftermath has been brutal, but in our eyes not enough praise has been put at the door of France. They were exceptional at their set-piece, direct and intelligent in attack and utilised the Stade de France atmosphere to the best of their advantage. Few teams would have won in Paris last week.
Robbie Deans has copped most of the abuse from all angles over the past year as Quade Cooper, Alan Jones, Stirling Mortlock and most recently David Campese launched a tirade at the New Zealander, with the former Wallaby wing saying that Deans "has destroyed Australian rugby and I want him to go". Unfortunately for you David there's unlikely to be a tweak forthcoming due to the fast approaching 2013 British & Irish Lions visit to your homeland.
Warren Gatland must be licking his lips at the ongoing soap opera but also wary that the likelihood is that things will have improved by the time the Lions return from their four-year hibernation. Factor in that star players James O'Connor, David Pocock, James Horwill, Will Genia et al should have fully recovered from their respective injuries, and English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish tourists will not be facing the same limping Wallabies we see today.
Speaking of today and because of suspensions to Rob Simmons and Adam Thomson, there has been little spice between the two sides in the build-up for Saturday. Only a weak comment from Australia wing Digby Ioane about England's finishers being "pretty" has scratched the surface while Toby Flood joined in the fun by giving a glowing reference to the women of Wigan. It seems the Australian press prefers bashing its own side nowadays.
If things go to the English plan - combining a strong scrummage with the dual playmaking combination of Flood and Alex Goode to create the points - the hacks Down Under will have more energy in their fingers on Sunday morning (their time). One can't help but feel though that with last week's weakest link, Sekope Kepu, benched for the returning Ben Alexander while the sizeable Sitaleki Timani locks in following an injury, they will be more sturdy.
Consequently, if there's greater parity up front than many are predicting more emphasis will then be placed on Goode's ability to create in the first line of attack and also whether Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi can feed off each other wider out. Both teams lack in the creativity department in the centres and that has been a big concern for Australia since Matt Giteau moved on, with Ben Tapuai the latest to wear the 12 jersey under Deans. What is surprising is the decision on paper to name Nick Cummins and Ioane on opposite wings to where they play for the Force and Reds, while Berrick Barnes (usually 10/12) returns at full-back, a spot he recently vacated for fly-half or centre Mike Harris. It truly is needs must right now.
But Australia are not without hope of claiming victory at Twickenham this weekend - far from it in fact. While the English did win comfortably against the islanders, signs of rustiness due to their lack of recent action was noticeable. Now the looming question is whether the home side's gameplan kicks on to better things this week? For Australia it's more asking can they bury their Paris loss and repeat the effort that almost defeated New Zealand in Brisbane?
Ones to watch:
For England: Last weekend's performance from Alex Goode was top notch and he will again line up at full-back at Twickenham. This time though he will have a new wing to form a combination with as Chris Ashton returns from his suspension to join Charlie Sharples in England's back-three. Ashton has been working on his defence in the international camp and therefore his progress will be closely monitored, not least by the coaches but also armchair fans. Elsewhere and of course Dan Cole will be watched at scrum-time while Danny Care will hope to win his battle with Nick Phipps, which we expect him to do.
For Australia: Sekope Kepu endured a nightmare evening in Paris and has been replaced by Ben Alexander, who is back in the squad after recovering from a wrist injury. He must stand up for Australia and it is worth noting he was solid at the set-piece during the recent Rugby Championship. Therefore England might not enjoy the same dominant success as Les Bleus did while the return of Sitaleki Timani may also shore things up for Robbie Deans. Digby Ioane is a player who is not shy of an error or two so if England can get amongst the wing - using kicks in behind - the Wallabies could be in trouble. Key to their hopes will be trio Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu and Kurtley Beale leading from the front.
Head-to-head: Bandwagons are rarely as full as when scrums are discussed ahead of England v Australia. We jump aboard as it cannot be ignored and won't be the front-rows.
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: Australia are given a 6, 7 or 8 point handicap with the bookmakers and I feel that is spot on. England to sneak this by 7 points in a game that may be short on tries scored.
England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Charlie Sharples, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Danny Care, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Tom Palmer, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Joe Launchbury, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Owen Farrell, 22 Mike Brown.
Australia: 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Digby Ioane, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Drew Mitchell.
Date: Saturday, November 17
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Mathieu Raynal (France)
Television match official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)