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Half A Dozen?
England will be looking for their SIXTH consecutive victory over Australia when the two sides meet on Saturday at Twickenham. Australia’s record against Jones’s men is miserable; they’ve been bashed by the Poms five times on the spin, including a three-nil home series defeat in 2016, and in doing so have conceded an average 35 points per game.
Success for England on Saturday would seal a return of 3 wins from 4 for this campaign, with the only defeat so far coming by just one point against the All Blacks. No matter how galling that loss, you suspect Eddie Jones would have chomped your hand off if offered that at the start of the month.
Despite a weird old 2018 (only side to beat Ireland, lost at home to Argentina) the Wallabies were unlucky to come out on the losing 12 months ago, where Elliot Daly’s extraordinary try helped propel England to victory by a deceptively dominant score line.
Jones v Cheika
These two antipodean coaching heavyweights have had a widely publicized love-hate relationship in the past. The run-ups to previous Australia – England encounters have been peppered with slanging matches in the media, as each coach attempted to win the all-important pre-kick-off mind games.
The build-up to this year’s contest has been worryingly tame, with Jones glowingly describing Cheika as his ‘old mate’ and a ‘street fighter’, while the latter has limited his remarks to gushing praise for Twickenham and how much he and his charges love playing there. Not a verbal haymaker or caustic cheapshot in sight, booooo.
Despite their current woes, the green and gold’s recent record at the home of rugby isn’t actually terrible – winning 5 or their last 11. With both sides coming into this one on the back of unconvincing wins last week, I’m predicting a tense and nervy test match. England to shade it by 7 points.
Danny Care and his 84 caps have been dropped from the matchday squad altogether following a disappointing performance against an outstanding Japan. Jones’s fringe players didn’t show up for their big day out at Twickenham, missing a gilt-edged opportunity to lay down their case for inclusion in next year’s World Cup squad.
The Aussie coach has shown that he isn’t afraid to shake it up in the aftermath either, and his axe has come down hard on the unsuspecting and perhaps unfortunate Care’s neck. Jones was clearly frustrated with a first half performance on Saturday that lacked intensity and was littered with poor discipline; England’s opening misery summed up by Care lumping the ball out over his own try line to trigger the half-time whistle.
Despite this, England’s head honcho will be pleased that his experienced ‘finishers’ (who are normally starters) made a big impact off the bench as the game went on, as England went on to win the second period 25-0.
Battle Of The Breakdown
England’s backrow big guns will return for the showdown against the Wallabies, where the battle at the breakdown normally goes a long way to deciding who takes home first prize. I expect to see the dogged Underhill start again at 7 and his skirmishes at the ruck with master jacklers Hooper and Pocock will be an intriguing game-within-a-game for all you tackle area purists out there.
Underhill will be joined in the backrow by new class favourite Mark Wilson, and I suspect the bulky Nathan Hughes will play some part in the game as he returns from one of the more brainless suspensions – a classic punch/tweet combination that earned him six weeks on the naughty step.
Are England becoming a one-man team?
Just as Jonny Wilkinson was indispensable to the all-conquering England side of 2003, it’s fast becoming apparent that this year’s cohort are equally reliant on Owen Farrell and his box of magic tricks to win the big games.
The superlative “Faz” is the oval ball equivalent to Mr Cricket – he lives, breathes and sometimes eats rugby – and England look a different side when he is on or off the pitch. This was never more obvious than against Japan on Saturday, when the Saracens man was unleashed onto the hallowed Twickenham turf at halftime (rumour has it on horseback) to rally his faltering countrymen and eventually lead them to glory.
If Farrell were to suffer a tournament-ending injury before the World Cup next year, I can’t see England getting their mitts anywhere near the Webb Ellis trophy. Hang on a sec - are Ireland any less dependent on Jonny Sexton, I hear you cry? Can South Africa even run a bath without Handre Pollard’s steadying hands on the taps? I could go on…but the answer is probably not, so perhaps it will be the team (with the exception of the All Blacks) who keeps their talismanic 10 fittest for longest that will triumph in the Orient next autumn.
How good were Ireland on Saturday? To help quantify the performance, that’s the first time the All Blacks have gone tryless and scored single digits in 20 years, since a 3-13 defeat to South Africa back in 1998.
The men in green put in an enormous collective shift in defence and attack, with Stockdale’s classy try the foam on the top of a very large and well-deserved pint of Guinness.
Ireland will ingest platefuls of self-belief from this win, achieved without two of their starting Lions players to boot, and have surely cemented their place at international rugby’s top table.
Their fans will desperately be hoping that their boys haven’t peaked too soon (whatever that means), but I’m sure there will be no let-off or complacency from the pragmatic Schmidt, Farrell and co, as Ireland’s Green Machine continues to juggernaut its way towards what could be a memorable month in Japan next year.
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