England v Australia
Rivals each desperate for something to cheer
Tom Hamilton
November 28, 2014
George Ford keeps his place at fly-half for England © Getty Images
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Autumn is meant to be a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, according to John Keats, but there has been nothing calm and reserved about England's November experience. This was meant to be the four-Test series where they put down a World Cup marker, nailed their centre combination colours to the mast and rekindled a sense of dominance at Twickenham. Instead, England fell to New Zealand and South Africa, the three-point margins belying the sloppiness of their performance, before they got a win under their belts against Samoa.

Team News

  • England: England change three with Owen Farrell dropped to the bench and Billy Twelvetrees replacing him at inside centre. George Ford keeps his place at fly-half with Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley recalled to the pack.
  • Australia: The Wallabies swap three. Adam Ashley-Cooper moves from left wing to replace the injured Tevita Kuridrani at outside centre, with Rob Horne replacing Ashley-Cooper on the wing to start a Test for the first time in two years. The third change sees Sean McMahon returns at blindside flanker, replacing Luke Jones.

The Samoa side was pre-occupied having spent the run-up to the Test embroiled in a dispute with their Union, but still they asked questions of England. It was a match in which George Ford was thrown straight into the cauldron of Test rugby as he was targeted by the formidable Samoan back-row, but he came through the examination with torso intact and an ever-growing reputation.

That Stuart Lancaster has opted to start Ford ahead of Owen Farrell this weekend suggests a changing of the guard at fly-half. Farrell has been the predominant holder of the No.10 jersey ever since Lancaster stepped into the England hot seat, but he is struggling for form. and Lancaster, despite seeing the much-fancied partnership of Ford and Farrell at 10 and 12 respectively last weekend, has opted to bring Billy Twelvetrees back in from the cold to starts at inside centre. It is almost a case of coming full circle for England with Twelvetrees the inside centre back in the Six Nations and Brad Barritt there when Lancaster first took on the job. The centre conundrum looks set to roll on into the 2015 Six Nations.

For the Wallabies, they come into the match off the back of a three-point loss to Ireland. They are still finding their feet under new coach Michael Cheika, and need time to find a Test match rhythm, but they will have taken heart from the performance of Nick Phipps at scrum-half in Dublin; also the game management of Bernard Foley, though his kicking from the tee was wayward.

Tevita Kuridrani has been one of the Wallabies' stand out players over the past few weeks, but the magnificent outside centre is injured and so the ever-versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper shifts back in from the wing to wear the No.13 shirt. Kuridrani has been an integral part of the Wallabies' game plan as he boasts both brawn and brain so there might be a slight tweak to the game plan we have seen over the past few weekends.

For both sides, Saturday's match will act as a teaser ahead of next year's World Cup pool stage where both teams meet. There has been talk over the psychological advantages of putting down markers a year out from the competition but such thoughts will be put to one side come Saturday, when both sides will be focused on finishing their November exploits with something to cheer.

In form

Jonny May went into the November series without having scored for England, but he now has three tries in as many Tests. His unpredictability can act as much as a hindrance as an advantageous weapon but, after getting the taste for what it is like to face the world's best sides, he will want to continue his impressive form. England's front-five has also given Lancaster reason for cheer with each player putting in a huge shift over the past three weekends.

For Australia, Phipps was superb against Ireland while Michael Hooper is putting down marker after marker at openside; that David Pocock is close to returning to full fitness back in Australia will not have escaped Hooper's attention. Ben McCalman is also playing superbly at No.8 while Henry Speight looks to be a formidable prospect on the wing.

Out of form

England's scrum-halves have been a troublesome position for Lancaster, and the pressure is on Ben Youngs to deliver with Danny Care banished back to Harlequins. Similarly, Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley are both recalled to the side after being left out against Samoa; they will be itching to impress.

Sean McMahon will want to impress at blindside as Australia are struggling without Scott Fardy. Foley will also want to improve his showing from the kicking tee with Quade Cooper and Matt Toomua breathing down his neck.

Key Battle

Stopping Hooper is essential for England. The limpet-like openside is a more traditional No.7 than his opposite number, Chris Robshaw, but the England skipper has been one of the hosts' most consistent performers over the past three games. Robshaw knows there will be ever-present question marks over his ability as a Test seven, and will look to quash the threat of Hooper come Saturday.

Stats

  • No one on the Twickenham turf has any hope of making a dent in the all-time points-scoring record for games between these two sides. Jonny Wilkinson leads it with 114 points while Michael Lynagh clocked in 108 for Australia. Next on the list of those still playing is Quade Cooper with 21.
  • Ben Tune is the Wallabies' top try-scorer in these games with seven, while Ben Cohen and Rory Underwood lead the way for England with four.

Odds

England are 4/7 favourites to win with Australia priced at 13/10.

Prediction

England by five

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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