England v Australia
England need to be wary of wounded Wallabies
November 1, 2013
Marland Yarde will hope his second cap for England is one to remember © Getty Images
England have just 23 matches between now and the start of the 2015 World Cup. The time for dipping toes in water and selection juggling is nearly over. You feel by the end of the three autumn internationals and at a push, the 2014 Six Nations, Stuart Lancaster needs to have a good idea of just who will be running out for the hosts on September 18, 2015 in their World Cup opener.
For England, their autumn Test programme starts against the Wallabies at Twickenham on Saturday.
Australia have endured a fairly miserable run recently with Ewen McKenzie winning just two of his first seven matches in charge after he took over from Robbie Deans following the Wallabies' loss to the British & Irish Lions. But there are green shoots of optimism in the Australian camp. They managed to put 33 points on the All Blacks on October 19 in their third Bledisloe encounter of 2013, that is not something to be sniffed at.
Their opponents England's back-to-back Test wins over Argentina would have gone some way to raising the morale in the camp after they were taught a lesson in Test rugby by Wales at the end of the Six Nations. That defeat in Cardiff is still cutting deep for England but a win over Australia, who triumphed at Twickenham this time last year, will go some way to papering over that wound.
England v Australia
While the Wallabies have five Tests lined up in the northern hemisphere, England have just three games to find their strut this autumn. Individuals will be feeling the pressure, but for England as a whole, they need at least two wins from their three Tests to put themselves into contention as potential World Cup winners in two years time. Anything less than that and Lancaster will have some sleepless nights until the start of the Six Nations.
For England, Mike Brown has managed to shine in a Harlequins side that has struggled of late so at present, he is the man in possession of the England fullback shirt. Lancaster said Lee Dickson getting the nod at scrum-half was due to his early season form and it is testament to the diminutive No.9 that he has, so far, managed to see off the threat of Kahn Fotuali'i at Northampton. In the pack, Courtney Lawes is at his bulldozing best and could be the enforcer England have lacked in recent times while the slim-downed Billy Vunipola is ripping up trees at No.8.
Australia wise, Quade Cooper was their star against New Zealand and he starts at fly-half. At his best, the sometimes outspoken No.10 is almost unstoppable. Michael Hooper is a star in the making at openside for Australia and was recently handed the John Eales medal for his efforts in 2013. Both Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau will pose a threat in the backs.
Out of form
It will be Israel Folau's first Test at Twickenham © Getty Images
Chris Ashton is playing well in the Premiership but has scored just two tries in his last 19 Tests for England, he needs to do well in the autumn internationals. And on England's bench, Ben Morgan has had an average start to the 2013-14 season and has at times struggled to get in Gloucester's XV. Him keeping his place in England's matchday squad is, you feel, due to Lancaster's philosophy of sticking with those who have "credit in the bank".
For Australia, James Horwill has been in the headlines this week and McKenzie has taken the captaincy from him in the hope the lock will re-find some form. Ben Mowen takes on the honour from Horwill and that will hurt the Reds second-row. He was talismanic for the Wallabies during the Lions series but struggled in the Rugby Championship. Will Genia is back in the side after he was dropped by McKenzie during the southern hemisphere tournament so he too will have a point to prove.
Area to watch
Oh the scrums, the bane of Australia's recent rugby existence. Mako Vunipola got a taste of the Wallabies' pack while on Lions duty in the summer and Wallabies tight-head Ben Alexander knows all about facing an English loose-head after Alex Corbisiero outplayed in him in the series-clinching third Test. Vunipola will hope Corbisiero's absence is not felt by getting one up on Alexander and rekindling memories of Andrew Sheridan's dominant performance during the 2007 World Cup quarter-final in the process.
The Australian scrum is not as bad as sometimes portrayed, as England have been keen to emphasise this week, but the home side will look to get some dominance in this area of the game.
Chris Ashton is favourite to score the first try with odds of 9/1 on offer from bet365. Mako Vunipola could be a good shout at 25/1 while England are 8/13 favourites to win the game.
It's going to be very close but England will sneak it by three points.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.