Preview: England v Australia
NOVEMBER INTERNATIONALS: England coach Eddie Jones has warned his side to stay “sharp and smart” when they bring down the curtain on their 2018 against his native Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
Jones’s men have won just five of 11 Tests in 2018 and Australia four of 12 heading into this weekend’s match – concerning figures with less than a year to go until the World Cup in Japan.
It was all a far cry from Jones’s stunning start as England boss – an appointment made after Australia knocked the hosts out of the 2015 World Cup – which saw just two defeats in his first 26 Tests in charge of the Red Roses.
But victory on Saturday would be a sixth in a row for England against Australia under Jones.
More importantly, it would also mean they had won three of their four Twickenham encounters this month, with the only reverse an encouraging if agonising 15-16 defeat by world champions New Zealand.
England, however, was sluggish at the start of last week’s eventual 35-15 win over Japan and found themselves five points down at half-time.
But Jones has reverted to something near his strongest available side with Owen Farrell, whose entry off the bench for the second half turned the tide against Japan, starting at flyhalf.
Intriguingly, Farrell’s co-captain Dylan Hartley is on the bench, with Jamie George preferred as the starting hooker.
No one knows better than Jones, who exactly 15 years earlier to the day on Thursday had been Australia’s coach when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to England, how Wallaby rugby must live on its wits given a relatively small playing base.
And he warned England would have to pay close attention to Australia centres Bernard Foley and Samu Kerevi, who between them combine guile and power.
“Foley obviously will be the distributor and Kerevi can knock over a few pins, so we’re going to have to be good defensively,” said Jones.
“But to get the opportunity to use the ball we’re going to have to be sharp and smart.”
Traditionally, England-Australia clashes have been framed as a contest between Red Rose forwards and Wallaby backs, although the hosts will look to bring Manu Tuilagi off the bench in what is set to be the injury-plagued centre’s first Test in more than two years.
Certainly, England’s pack will be hoping to starve an Australia side coached by Michael Cheika – who played alongside Jones for Sydney club Randwick – of the ball.
A key figure in that aim will be Saracens second row forward Maro Itoje.
“I think every game he looks like he’s going to become the best lock in the world, and it’s another opportunity for him to knock on the door,” said Jones.
Australia’s influential No 8, David Pocock, has been included in the run-on XV despite a neck injury suffered during last week’s 26-7 win against Italy.
“I wouldn’t say he is fully fit, he is hurting,” said Cheika, who guided Australia to the 2015 World Cup final.
But he added: “I wouldn’t take a risk physically with him.”
Australia scrumhalf Will Genia will win his 100th cap but there was no place at all in the matchday 23 for talented playmaker Kurtley Beale.
“I want to play a certain way in this game and, with that thought in mind I had to make some really difficult decisions,” Cheika explained.
Players to watch:
For England: Owen Farrell has been a key player for the English since he moved from midfield (where his RugbyPass Index suggests he is ranked #2) to flyhalf. His influence on the game is far greater as a No.10 – when he is ranked. Openside flank Sam Underhill is another player who is far more influential than what his RPI ranking of #88 suggests.
For Australia: Will Genia will get his 100th Test cap at Twickenham – an auspicious occasion for the 30-year-old, despite his RPI ranking having dropped in recent months. The constant tinkering with the backline has not helped the Wallabies – where fullback Israel Folau is the most consistent factor. David Pocock is, without doubt, Australia’s most valuable player – despite his RPI ranking listing him outside the top 10 most influential No.8s.
Head to head: You don’t have to look much further than flyhalf to find a key indicator for this match – Owen Farrell (England) against Matt Toomua (Australia), the one being a settled player in a settled team, the other a player that recently changed positions in an ever-changing team. In most games the set-piece battle lay the platform for victory – Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George and Ben Moon (England) against Adam Coleman, Izack Rodda, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu and Scott Sio (Australia).
2017: England won 30-6, London
2016: England won 37-21, London
2016: England won 44-40, Sydney
2016: England won 23-7, Melbourne
2016: England won 39-28, Brisbane
2015: Australia won 33-13, London
2014: England won 26-17, London
2013: England won 20-13, London
2012: Australia won 20-14, London
2010: England won 35-18, London
@rugby365com Prediction: This will be a lot closer than most computer-generated indicators suggest. The Australians will be fired up and will be in the contest for at least the first 70 minutes, before England will sneak ahead to win by eight points.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (co-captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley (co-captain), 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 George Ford, 23 Manu Tuilagi.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Bernard Foley, 11 Jack Maddocks, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Jermaine Ainsley, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Sefa Naivalu.
Date: Saturday, November 24
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT; 02.00 AEDT Sunday, November 25)
Expected weather: Light rain and a gent;e breeze. High of 9°C and low of 6°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
AFP & @rugby365com
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