England vs Australia International Preview: Stars Return for Heavyweight Test6 min read
An underwhelming England walked away from Twickenham 21-8 winners against Argentina last Saturday. There were flashes of brilliance – notably from Alex Lozowski off the bench – though the score line reflected Argentine kicking woes more than English dominance.
This week however, Eddie Jones has played his full hand in what is England’s biggest test before the 2018 Six Nations. Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje return to the squad, and barring Mike Brown who is out at fullback with a concussion, this is England at full strength.
Your England squad for Saturday's #OMWSeries clash against Australia.
— England Rugby (at 🏠) (@EnglandRugby) November 16, 2017
Jones knows Australia well, and England have won four from four against the Wallabies since he took charge in 2015. As such, we’ve taken a look at some of the position battles that will play out, and given some predictions for Saturday’s clash.
Joe Launchbury replaces George Kruis in the second row in the only change from last week’s starting front five for England, and this remains the bedrock of the team’s success. Not only is it packed with quality, it is the deepest group of players on the squad; and British and Irish Lions Jamie George and Maro Itoje will surely make an impact off the bench when their numbers are called.
Nevertheless, Argentina had surprising success in the scrum last week, and Australia are no slouches themselves. Their front row has a combined 207 international test caps and go toe-to-toe with the best packs in the world every year.
I still give England the slight edge here, primarily because of the depth of the position, but don’t be surprised if for 60-minutes neither side pulls ahead in the scrum.
— Wallabies (@wallabies) November 16, 2017
Unchanged from last week; Sam Underhill, Chris Robshaw, and Nathan Hughes get the start on the back row. Robshaw provides the experience, but this is undoubtedly the youngest position group on the team and games like this are vital tests as the 2019 World Cup begins to loom.
Both Underhill and Hughes impressed last week – even if an Underhill error was the spark for an Eddie Jones outburst – and will look to push on against the Wallabies.
Australia similarly are young across the back row, with 22-year-old Ned Hanigan at six and 23-year-old Sean McMahon at eight. However, captain Michael Hooper, with more than 75 caps to his name, adds veteran leadership and could prove the difference in this battle.
I see this as the area of most interest, as with so much youth on such a big stage it is hard to predict who has the upper hand, but I’ll go with the Wallabies captain and give Australia the slight edge on the back row.
This is where England will need to show the most improvement from last week’s somewhat flat performance.
The additions of Owen Farrell and Jonny May back to the starting line-up should help add a spark, and the combination of George Ford, Farrell, and Jonathan Joseph has had great success in the past. Anthony Watson’s move to full back will be tested early and often, though he is hardly a stranger to the position and if his Premiership form is anything to go by he should do well.
Farrell’s return will also help England’s kicking game, and if the forwards can grind out some positive territory, England should more consistently come away with points on the board.
Australia’s veteran scrum-half/fly-half combination of Will Genia and Bernard Foley will test England’s interior defence, but they are young at centre where they looked potentially vulnerable last week.
The biggest test will be cutting down on mistakes, as Kurtly Beale proved just how dangerous Australia can be off turnovers against Wales. Though back to full strength – and facing a Wallaby side without star Israel Folau – I expect a much better showing from England.
This is where the game will be won or lost, and this back line has proven before they can have success against the best, if they cut down mistakes they should be fine; advantage England.
Australia have only lost one game in 2017 by more than six points (34-54 loss vs New Zealand).
Australia +7.5 handicap
England to win by 1-5 points
Longshot: First half draw, England win