England vs Australia | Saturday 29 November | Twickenham | 16:30
Michael Cheika’s whimpering Wallabies head for London this Saturday desperate for a tour salvaging victory over Stuart Lancaster’s burgeoning bunch in their final outing of the year. Australia’s fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse after that rousing Cardiff victory over the steadfast Welsh in the opening clash of their annual northern pilgrimage. A return to their seemingly innate mediocrity resulted in back-to-back defeats against the fumbling French and an inspired Ireland over the past two weeks, sending the Wallabies tumbling down the IRB rankings to a demoralising fifth place, their lowest seeding since the rankings were introduced back in 2003.
Stuart Lancaster’s side has fared relatively well so far this season considering the gaping holes left in several key positions thanks to a crippling injury list that includes the likes of Alex Corbisiero, Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, and Manu Tuilagi amongst others. Certainly the most remarkable thing about England’s performances so far this season is their newfound prowess up front, notably the unprecedented dominance at the set pieces against the traditionally stronger southern sides. The English were unlucky to have missed out on the spoils against both the All Blacks and the Springboks, having pushed their guests to within a mere three points in both games, but they’ll be pleased to have finally bounced back to winning ways with their clinical 28-9 demolition of a burly Samoan side last Saturday.
To Win (80mins)
England (-4.5) 9/10
Australia (+4.5) 9/10
Stuart Lancaster has called up Gloucester wrecking ball Billy Twelvetrees for Saturday’s clash with the Aussies. He takes over in the midfield from the out of form Owen Farrell, who started in the unfamiliar centre position last week to allow the fresh-faced and fleet-footed George Ford his first start at pivot. Poor performances against the All Blacks, Springboks and Samoa left Lancaster little option but to leave Farrell out of the run on side for the first time since June 2012. In the forwards, Northampton Saints teammates Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley relieve flanker James Haskell and hooker Rob Webber respectively.
Michael Cheika has made just three changes to his beleaguered Wallaby outfit ahead of Saturday’s Test. Utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper shifts in from the wing to centre to replace the injured Tevita Kuridrani, with Rob Horne replacing Ashley-Cooper out wide. Just one change up front sees the return of blindside bruiser Sean McMahon at the expense of Luke Jones.
VERDICT: England (-4.5) 9/10
Having narrowly missed out against both the All Blacks and Springboks already this month, Saturday’s clash with the woebegone Wallabies serves as Lancaster’s last shot at claiming a coveted Southern Hemisphere scalp before next year’s World Cup, and with Michael Cheika still trying to find his feet in the national setup there really couldn’t be a more opportune time for the Red Roses to bloom.
Think we've got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this is going to play out.