Who ordered their June series extra spicy?
For months Eddie Jones had been talking about Bodyline: his plan for England to wage a physical assault on Australia built on physicality and aggression.
On Friday, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he wasn’t exactly sure what ‘Bodyline’ meant; but those watching at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, and those glued to their screens away from the ground, needed only five minutes to catch Jones’ drift as James Haskell thumped David Pocock in a brutal one-on-one hit.
The hit didn’t set the tone for all of the following 75 minutes, as the Wallabies scored two quick tries to claim an early 10-0 lead. But it did show that England were up for the challenge; and as they slowly began to dissipate the early Australian momentum, the other part of Jones’ ‘Bodyline’ blueprint started to show its face.
Regarded as a hooker who played well above his small stature, Jones’ game was built on tenacity and arguably, to use further cricket terminology, he loved to go the sledge. Niggle; verbal; wind-up; mental disintegration; call it what you like, sledging has been a key part of Australia’s cricket approach, to the dismay of some, for decades. And on the evidence of Saturday night, it’s also a central cog in Jones’ plan for an England series victory.
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The sight of rising star Maro Itoje screaming and slapping the back of his teammates in the pack after winning a penalty, or the England backs rushing in to congratulate their teammates — and engage in a bit of push and shove with the Australians — was impossible to miss.
There was further verbal at the scrum. Former England captain Chris Robshaw gestured repeatedly towards the assistant referees, drawing attention to the under-pressure Australian props, and Ben Youngs did exactly what any good scrum-half worth the No. 9 jersey should in yapping with the incessantness of a kelpie puppy.
England also made sure to test the ribs of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley, the Wallabies halves each hit after passing the ball.
The tourists, simply, got under Australia’s collective skin.
Nick Phipps (R) tangles with England No.8 Billy Vunipola. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
The big question now is: How will the Wallabies respond in Melbourne?
Cheika has already hinted that he is unlikely to make too many changes but he will at least have to find a replacement for David Pocock, who will miss the remainder of the series with a fractured eye-socket.
Pocock’s absence presents an opportunity for the Wallabies to revert to a more traditional back-row set-up with a ball-running No. 8, a position which could be filled by Ben McCalman.
But if Cheika is to stick to his breakdown guns and continue with a trio that features two ‘fetchers’, than Sean McMahon should be Pocock’s replacement.
McMahon is as raw as they come, someone who has the right combination of aggression and physicality to combat the England approach that was so successful in Brisbane on Saturday night.
Greg Holmes is surrounded by a number of England players. PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP/Getty Images
This does not mean playing beyond the laws of the game; Australia will need still need to watch their discipline after finding themselves on the end of a 15-8 penalty count.
But having chosen not to enter into the pre-series mind games, the Wallabies may have afforded England the necessary platform, after weathering an early attacking storm, from which the tourists could launch their mental assault.
Australia may have scored more tries, run more metres and dominated countless other stats in Saturday night’s loss to England.
But they chose not to engage in that quintessential Australian art of sledging; it simply just has to change in Melbourne.
ESPN.com – RUGBY