The game at Twickenham on Saturday is a big test in every sense of the word.
By late afternoon we will have some idea of where the two teams are less than two years out from the World Cup.
By now both head coaches should have a pretty good idea of at least the spine of the team that will line up when the competition begins. At the moment there are still questions to be answered in both camps.
England’s last proper game was the heavy defeat to Wales in what was supposed to be a Grand Slam decider – I don’t count the summer tour when our seconds beat the Pumas 3rd XV.
Was the demolition by Wales simply a blip as some have claimed or did it instead show that the side have a long way to go to be serious contenders – even to emerge from the group of death?
For Australia – well, they arrive on the back of a welcome and impressive win in Argentina and a positive performance in the last Bledisloe Cup game where they held up well against the best team in the world at the ‘House of Pain’.
Both sides need the win badly – and whoever triumphs will gain a considerable psychological advantage as we race towards 2015.
There are big players missing through injury on both sides but that is the reality of today’s game and all teams are likely to have to cope with missing ‘stars’ before and during the World Cup – get used to it!
For England it is a must win game – they have to rebuild Clive Woodward’s ‘Fortress Twickenham’ and to maintain that sense of invulnerability for the next two years and one month.
Australia are starting to find some form – Will Genia and Quade Cooper are gelling at the right time and are starting to unleash their formidable resources out wide. Israel Folau is showing the full potential that we first saw against the Lions. Up front they still remain vulnerable in the front row but behind Horwill, Mowen and Hooper are a real handful.
Michael Hooper has recently picked up the prestigious John Eales Medal – if David Pocock had not been injured he might have only been warming the bench!
What Stuart Lancaster would give to have those sort of resources at number 7.
Before I predict the outcome here’s my choice for the England line up on Saturday – we already know that this will not be the actual team from noises coming out of the camp – but it is who I would go with!
- Mako Vunipola
- Dylan Hartley
- David Wilson
- Courtney Lawes
- Dave Attwood
- Tom Wood (Captain)
- Matt Kvesic
- Billy Vunipola
- Ben Youngs
- Owen Farrell
- Chris Ashton
- Billy Twelvetrees
- Luther Burrell
- Marlon Yarde
- Mike Brown
Obviously Chris Robshaw will actually play since he has been made captain for at least the autumn.
I was also a bit hesitant about Owen Farrell and his ability to set the line alight – however he gets the nod since his aggressive tackling will, no doubt, be used to try and unsettle Quade Cooper. We are also likely to need his reliability with the boot to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
I have nothing against Robshaw but feel when up against the talents of Hooper he will come up short at the breakdown. I’ve chosen Attwood to partner Lawes because of his aggression in the loose which will be needed to slow down the ball for the electric Wallaby backs.
It was close run thing and Joe Launchbury almost crept in ahead of him but loses out because I prefer nasty locks and someone who can stand up to James Horwill. For my money Geoff Parling is falling into a Steve Borthwick situation – lauded for his line out control but lacking in dominance elsewhere. Admittedly he was excellent with the Lions but I want to see more of his aggressive side before I put him ahead of the other three second rows.
In the centre Billy Twelvetrees just gets the nod ahead of Henry Trinder since it would be dangerous to field two new caps against Australia – maybe he’ll come on or get his chance versus the Pumas.
In the absence of Corbisiero, Mako has to start rather than be an impact from the bench and for that reason I want the powerful David Wilson on the other side of the scrum. For similar reasons I’d have Hartley getting in amongst the front row before Tom Youngs explodes from the bench. The wings, numbers 6 and 8 and Mike Brown are shoe –ins for me.
As I said earlier I know that this will not be the team on the day and I look forward to the announcement later in the week to see how many of my choices actually make the starting line-up or even the bench.
I am not sure of the outcome and since Australia are my second team (courtesy of my Aussie granddaughter and naturalised son) I stand to win anyway.
Obviously that’s not (entirely) true and on Saturday I will be cheering loudly for England – only after will my support switch to the Aussies for the rest of their tour matches.
If the England pack can gain the ascendancy and Robshaw can get anywhere near Hooper than I think we will starve the Wallaby backs and squeeze out a result.
Roll on Saturday – I can’t wait – our apologies to all the Aussies who will have to stay up late to watch the game!