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Australia v England 1st Test Preview
Australia get their international rugby season underway against England in Brisbane this Saturday.
The most anticipated rugby series of the year gets underway this Saturday with Australia and England squaring off at Suncorp Stadium in the first of three Test matches.
The visitors will be looking to build on their 2016 Six Nations title win while the hosts will be looking to recapture some of that form that saw them win the 2015 Rugby Championship and finish 2015 World Cup as runners-up.
So will Eddie Jones make it a successful return to Australia or will Michael Cheika send his old drinking mate back to England with his tail between his legs?
Australia v England | Saturday 11 June | Suncorp Stadium | 12:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Australia 11/20 | Draw 22/1 | England 14/10
Australia (-3.5) 9/10 | England (+3.5) 9/10
This is a rather interesting series for Cheika and Co. While a loss here would be met with some hostility from the Australian rugby public, it could hardly be viewed as unforeseeable nor the end of the world. I mean, if you take a look at how the Australian Super Rugby franchises have performed this year – their top two performings sides are only four points better off than the last placed New Zealand side – you’d think Australian rugby is in somewhat of a slump. The Wallabies will also be without kingpin Matthew Giteau who's still got a few more rounds of French Top 14 rugby to deal with.
While the performances of their Super Rugby franchises leave a lot to be desired, you have to factor in how small the Australian rugby populous is when looking at the layout of Australian rugby.
I was watching a panel discussion featuring former Australian lock Nathan Sharpe a few days back. The big man spoke of how stiff the competition Rugby Union faces from Australian Football and Rugby League. He mentioned how the majority of the most talented youth players generally opt to play the two other codes rather than Rugby Union.
While the Australians talent pool is nowhere the size of South Africa’s or New Zealand’s, they do still have some quality players who will turn out for them this summers.
If you take the spine of the Waratahs side – Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Michael Hooper, and Israel Folau – and throw in the Brumbies aces – David Pocock, Tevita Khuidraini, Christian Lealiifano, Steven Moore, Sam Carter, and Scott Fardy – and mix that with the best of the rest – Ben McCalman, Liam Gill, and Leroy Houston – you get a competent side who are more than capable of mixing it up with this English outfit.
The only real selection headache Cheika is dealing with is who to field in the centres. The Wallaby mentor has two options here. He could go the conservative route and pair Tevita Kuridraini with Christian Lealiifano and keep Israel Folau at fifteen or he could shift Kruridarani to inside centre – something they have apparently been doing during their training sessions – and partner him with the mercurial Folau while giving the talented Dane Haylett-Petty a go at 15.
This decision could may well make or break his sides chances and I have to say, I’m pretty glad I’m not the one who has to make it.
English rugby is on an absolute high at the minute. Not only did the national team win the Six Nations but Saracens also managed to bring the European Rugby Champions Cup back to London.
Eddie Jones’ is reaping the spoils of Saracens success with the nucleus of his Six Nations squad compromising of Saracens men. The likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, and the brothers Vunipoala have all enjoyed a stellar starta to the year in both England and ‘Saries colours.
It will be intriguing to see what Jones does with Owen Farrell. The youngster operated at 12 for the majority of England’s Grand Slam winning Six Nations campaign with Bath’s George Ford being preferred at flyhalf. But after Ford’s nightmarish kicking display against Wales a fortnight ago, one is left to speculate whether Jones will be willing to field the Bath man.
Jones is very much a stickler for statistics and any rugby statistician worth his salt will tell you that you’re not going to win a rugby game ‘down under’ with a flyhalf who isn’t slotting 80 percent of his goals.
If Jones does opt to switch Farrell to ten, it will be rather interesting to see who he elects to field in the centres. Exeter youngster Henry Slade has enjoyed a breakthrough season while Luther Burrell has managed to resurrect his career somewhat with a few solid displays for Northampton. There’s also the option to give league convert Benjamin Te’o a bash while Jonathon Josephs is always reliable.
While there’s still a bit of mystery to which backs will line up for England this week, the forward pack basically picks itself. Maro Itoje and George Kruis are more than likely to be the starting second row while Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw and Teimana Harrison could well form the back three. Mako Vunipoala, Dylan Hartley, and Dan Cole are shoes for the three front row berths.
Verdict: England 14/10
It is not the most popular of calls but my money is on England winning this one and taking a 1-0 lead in the series. They have some real quality players among their ranks and this Australian squad is likely to feeling a bit leggy after a long start to the Super Rugby season.