It’s been a build-up filled with more talk than an episode of Dr. Phil, but finally the opening Test of between the Wallabies and England is upon us. England coach Eddie Jones has had one eye on this series ever since he took over, and ramped up the pre-match mind games after arriving in Australia — and overcoming a vigorous customs search. Wallabies counterpart Michael Cheika has done his best to avoid verbal warfare and with good reason, the Aussie having just two weeks to bring together a vastly different group to the one that reached last year’s Rugby World Cup final.
For Cheika, the last fortnight will have been about working from the strategic pillars of last year and using the team mainstays – Stephen Moore, David Pocock, Bernard Foley and Israel Folau – to further enhance the Wallabies’ game plan. Jones, on the other hand, has attempted to distance England from their Six Nations Grand Slam, even putting some players on notice, in a bid to reinforce the scope of the challenge that awaits them in Australia.
It is the most intriguing June series, outside a British & Irish Lions tour, Down Under for quite some time.
Three new caps will be added to the Wallabies archives with Rory Arnold, Samu Kerevi and Dane Haylett-Petty earning a start at lock, inside centre and right wing respectively. Arnold looks the most intriguing inclusion give his 2.08 metre frame, while Nick Frisby could also take his Test bow as Nick Phipps’ half-back cover on the bench. Cheika resisted the temptation of a centre switch for Israel Folau, keeping his key strike weapon at full-back.
The big news in the England camp is that Jones has plumped for the reliable Owen Farrell over the rather more erratic George Ford. The coach went into bat for Ford after he came in for criticism following a poor kicking display against Wales, but it now seems as though he is not prepared to leave points out on the field. Farrell is like a metronome with the boot and could provide crucial scores from the tee.
Samu Kerevi PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP/Getty Images
Israel Folau, Dan Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps; Scott Sio, Stephen Moore (captain), Greg Holmes, Rory Arnold, Rob Simmons, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, David Pocock
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, James Horwill, Dean Mumm, Sean McMahon, Nick Frisby, Christian Leali’ifano
Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Luther Burrell, Marland Yarde, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley (captain), Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Chris Robshaw, James Haskell, Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Matt Mullan, Paul Hill, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Danny Care, George Ford, Jack Nowell.
While Australia’s back-row did much of the damage against England at the World Cup last year, fly-half Bernard Foley still had to capitalise on the high-quality ball. And capitalise he did. In what was a breakout performance from the Wallabies No.10, Foley scored one — and setup another — of Australia’s three tries and enjoyed a perfect night with the boot. The one difference this time around is that he won’t have the experience and left-foot kicking option of Matt Giteau standing at No.12.
Opposite him will be a Farrell, not a Ford. Young George F. was England’s first-choice stand-off for their victorious Six Nations campaign, but the durable Owen F. has been given the nod for Saturday. Farrell has been in fine form for Saracens this season and his physical approach is likely to sit well with the ‘bodyline’ tactic. Expect as many bruising tackles as finessed passes from the England pivot.
David Rogers/Getty Images
*Australia and England have only met four times Down Under in the last 10 years, with the Wallabies holding a 3-1 advantage. England did however win their most recent encounter on Australian soil, a 21-20 triumph in Sydney in 2010.
*England’s 76-0 loss to Australia in Brisbane in 1998 remains their heaviest ever Test defeat. Odds
Australia’s UBET has this verdict: Australia @ $1.63 England @ $2.25. Northern Hemisphere teams have a horrendous record against the Wallabies in Australia in mid-year tests, but punters must have missed the memo because England has been well found at $2.25 in early trade. That said, our market framers anticipate Australia will attract strong support closer to kick-off.
In the UK, Unibet have Australia as heavy favourites, pricing the hosts at 3/5 for victory. England, fresh from having won the Grand Slam in Europe, look good value at 27/20 to cause what Unibet sees as an upset Down Under.
Brisbane is expecting a partly cloudy day on Saturday with a top of 23 degrees. There is only a minimal chance of rain, and certainly nothing like the torrential downpour that hit the east coast of Australia last weekend.
England, playing for World Cup survival, were certainly the team under pressure at Twickenham last year and oddly enough, it’s almost as if Eddie Jones has backed his side into a similar predicament in Australia. Threats of a ‘Bodyline’ attack have made great headlines for those in the media, and certainly helped sell tickets, but the fact remains that this is a far different environment to the Six Nations – a tournament cheekily dubbed the ‘Tier Two World Cup’. The Wallabies certainly aren’t without their issues, but a touch of the Cheika magic will have no doubt inspired Australia’s rookies. Wallabies by three.
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Preview: Australia vs. England
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