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End of the Year Tour: England v Australia Preview
England will be aiming to end the calendar year undefeated by getting a win over the Wallabies on Saturday.
England square off with the Wallabies at Twickenham on Saturday in one of the most significant fixtures of the 2016. While the Wallabies defeat to the Irish has killed off their Grand Slam hopes, Michael Cheika’s men will be desperate to get a spot of revenge over the team that whitewashed them, in their own back yard, earlier this year. While England will be eager to complete a perfect season.
So which of these age old rivals will reign supreme at ‘Rugby HQ’? Let’s see if we can find out.
England v Australia | Saturday 3 December | Twickenham | 16:30
To Win (80 Mins)
England 1/4 | Draw 22/1 | Australia 28/10
England (-9.5) 9/10 | Australia (+9.5) 9/10
It may be a bit much comparing the blitzkrieg renaissance of English Rugby to a Lazarus like feat. Sure, there sudden rise to prominence has needed a Herculean effort from the RFU - SARU could learn a few lessons from their English counterparts – but it wasn’t as if there was shortage of playing talent that would hinder creating a decent rugby side. Far from it in fact, as the rises of Maro Itoje, Elliot Daily and Kyle Sinckler attest to.
The problem with the 2015 vintage, as opposed to the 2016 yield, was with the vintner, former head coach Stuart Lancaster, rather than the grapes. Eddie Jones has entered the vineyard and has created the perfect blend in record time.
We all know how masterful a coach Jones is but no one, and I mean no one, would have seen this coming from the Roses. They started the year by completing the Grand Slam on their way to winning the Six Nations. They then went ‘Down Under’ and whitewashed this weekend’s opponents. And the last four weeks has seen them comfortably beat the Springboks, put fifty points over Fiji and beat the Argentines despite being a man short for three quarters of the games. Not bad for a side who bowed out of their own World Cup at the group phase just over a year ago.
England can put the cherry on the top of their four-tiered decadent cake of a season with a victory over the Australians this Saturday. And while they are favourites with the bookies to do so. It won’t be easy as pivotal number eight Billy Vunipola has been ruled out due to knee ligament damage. The big man has been crucial to getting England on the front foot with his monstrous carries and his replacement Nathan Hughes is going to have a hard time trying to match Vunipola’s metres gained stats.
Eddie Jones is yet to announce his side at the time of writing but he will have to make one further change to his run-on side as Elliot Daily has copped a three week ban for his dangerous tackle - that saw him red carded last week - on Leonardo Senatore. The Wasp’s youngster’s spot on the wing is likely to be taken by veteran Marland Yarde.
The Wallabies have by no means enjoyed as successful a season as their counterparts but coach Michael Cheika will be somewhat buoyed by Australia’s performances on tour. They started their end of the year campaign with a big victory over the Welsh and followed that up with a hard-fought win over a resurgent French side at the always tricky Stade de France. And while they did go down to the Irish by three points last week, the manner in which the Wallabies came back into the game after going 17 points down was rather encouraging.
The men from the ‘Land Down Under’ will face their stiffest test of their outbound tour this week though. While the English playing personal are an exceedingly talented group, it’s Eddie Jones who Cheika will be fretting about the most. Jones’ had Cheika’s number during the June internationals. He outsmarted his opponents with consummate ease, exposing Australian frailties and instructing his charges to prey on these weak points.
Cheika may have to think outside the box if he wants to get one over his old drinking mate this weekend. And what better way to throw the cat among the pigeons than handing Rugby League convert Sefanaia Naivalu a run-on debut. The Melbourne Rebels man was sensational when he came on last week bagging a try with almost his first touch of the ball. He could be a huge thorn in the side for the English back three.
Cheika, in my opinion, should also drop the whole playing an extra lock on the flank. While the tactic has reaped dividends in the past, shoring up the Australian line out, it would negate the breakdown threat the Australians could pose. England are missing their breakdown specialist James Haskell. And while his forward colleagues have been able to secure their own ball ta rucktime, they’re yet to face a back row with as much fetching ability as a back row that features David Pockock, Michael Hooper and Ben McCalman.
Verdict: Australia (+9.5) 9/10
The loss of Vunipola is a massive blow to this English side. He is the man who gets them over the gain line and allows Farrell and Ford more time to breathe. I still think England will win it but the margin will be a lot tighter than it could have been. I’m going to back the Aussies to keep it within the +9.5 handicap.