We take a look at the last of the three June Tests being contested between Australia and England.
This one is all about righting the wrongs of the past fortnight for the hosts while the visitors will be looking to make history by claiming a series whitewash.
Australia v England | Saturday 25 June | Allianz Stadium | 12:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Australia 9/10 | Draw 20/1 | England 9/10
Things really couldn’t get any worse for Michael Cheika. The locals are getting restless, his Trans-Tasman rival Steve Hansen has had a dig at Cheika’s inability to get one over his old drinking mate Eddie Jones, and said old friend seems to be loving every minute of it.
While Cheika has caught the majority of the flak for his side’s poor showing during the June series, the blame doesn’t solely lie at his feet. In fact, in my opinion, the Australian mentor should be absolved from most of it.
Yes, he’s the one that selects the side but when you have a talent pool as shallow as a bucket full of holes, you simply have to select what you’ve got. And the players he does have at his disposal aren’t bad at all.
You simply cannot legislate for the shocking shifts put in by the likes of Nick Phipps, Rob Simmons, Bernard Foley, Stephen Moore, and every single prop that has turned out in a gold jumper this June.
Cheika has also been hampered by key injuries with Zimbabwean-born David Pocock being ruled out of the remainder of the series after he sustained an eye socket injury in the opening Test.
It’s not only injuries and poor form that have been the difference. While it’s never a great feeling to lose a home series, it must be remembered that this is an England side on the rise and who are enjoying the fruits of a successful under 20s program that has produced some brilliant players in the form of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, George Ford, and George Kruise.
So what now for the Wallabies? Well if they are to win the final Test they will have to up their game tenfold. I also think they need to make a few positional shifts. Israel Folau needs to see more of the ball while on the front foot. Asking the Waratahs man to run the ball from his own twenty-two while four English defenders are closing him down is never going to reap dividends. While he’s not a recognised outside centre, he has done a really good job for the ‘Tahs there. And with nothing really left to lose, it’s definitely worth giving him a run in the 13 jumper.
An offshoot of the Folau experiment would see a switch for Dane Haylett-Petty from the wing to fullback. The mercurial youngster has played the majority of his Super Rugby at 15 so it wouldn’t be too much of an issue.
I’d also like to see Tatafu Polota-Nau handed a start. The big man really made an impact when he came on in the second Test making some barnstorming runs. And while I respect Steven Moore as both a captain and player, the Brumbies man cut a rather fatigued figure last week. With this in mind, it’s probably in the interest of both parties for Polota-Nau to get a start and for Moore to revert to the bench.
I could start this segment off with a 300-word ode to Eddie Jones but I have already waxed lyrical about the England mentor on numerous occasions over the past few months. I will instead praise his players and in particular a young man from Camden.
Back in January, I penned a Six Nations preview where I really hyped up Itoje and the Saracens youngster certainly hasn’t disappointed. While he was really good during the Six Nations, his performances ‘down under’ have been even better.
He’s been an absolute thorn in the Wallabies side at the breakdown – he’s was such a menace last week that he had half the Australian pack wanting to beat the living daylights out of him during a stoppage in play just after a ruck – and he’s been as solid as a rock at lineout time.
Itoje hasn’t been the only player to put his hand up on this groundbreaking tour of Australia. His partner in crime George Kruise has also played two blinders while Owen Farrell continues to impress regardless of whether he starts at inside-centre or at ten.
My man of the series has been Billy Vunipoala, however. The marauding number eight has been in sensational form since Eddie Jones’ took over. His powerful runs and ability to get through the first tackle have given the English backs a brilliant platform to work off. The big man certainly deserves a heap of plaudits for his displays in the first two Tests.
So having already wrapped up the series many people would expect Eddie Jones to give some of the fringe players a start. The Australian-born Jones’ is having none of that. In a post-match interview last week, the England mentor declared that he was looking to attain a series whitewash!
With the above sentence in mind, I reckon we’ll see an almost identical line-up take to the field this week.
Verdict: England 9/10
England won the first Test by nine points, the second by sixteen, and I reckon the third and final Test will see them win by between six and eight points. The price may have dropped slightly from last week but my advice is the same, get on England now!