England v Australia
England and Australia head for titanic struggle
November 14, 2008
Phil Vickery, the England prop takes part in strength training during the England rugby training at the Pennyhill Park Hotel in Bagshot, England on November 11, 2008.
Phil Vickery replaces Matt Stevens in the England front-row, and is preparing for a heavyweight battle © Getty Images

Martin Johnson has reinforced the England pack by making two changes for the Cook Cup international against Australia.

Phil Vickery comes into the side at tight-head prop in place of Matt Stevens, who drops to the bench, while Tom Palmer replaces Nick Kennedy in the second-row.

Johnson has brought added bulk on to the bench for Saturday, with Simon Shaw preferred to Kennedy among the replacements. Shaw's inclusion is the only change to the 22-man squad that opened Johnson's coaching reign with a 39-13 victory over the Pacific Islanders at Twickenham last weekend.

Although Mathew Tait has returned to training, Johnson has kept his electric back division intact after their impressive performance against the Islanders.

Full-back Delon Armitage, who was man of the match at Twickenham, winger Ugo Monye and inside centre Riki Flutey will all win their second Test caps.

England's starting XV features only four of the team that began the World Cup quarter-final victory over Australia last autumn - Vickery, Andrew Sheridan and Nick Easter with Paul Sackey the only surviving back.

Australia hold the Cook Cup following their back-to-back victories over England in June 2006. England last won the trophy in November 2005.

Sheridan and Vickery were the starting props when England demolished the Australian scrum in Marseille last October.

Johnson insisted he was not trying to send out a message and explained the changes were made with one aim in mind - to beat Australia on Saturday.

"We have two quality tight-head props. Phil is fresh and in form and we are picking a team to beat Australia on Saturday," said Johnson. "Matt is a huge impact player. Phil is our most experienced forward. He brings a lot of leadership, which will be important. He is a world-class player.

"Tom had a good tour of New Zealand. It was good to get Nick in last week. He played pretty well. It is not a selection on how he played last week, we were thinking of doing it anyway.

"It was a tough call on him not being on the bench but we wanted what Shaw offers."

Johnson was pleased with the way England performed against the Islanders - but he outlined how big a challenge he expects from the Wallabies. "It was good to get that game played. We had been together for a couple of weeks but until you play and get exposed in a couple of areas, you don't know where you are," said Johnson.

"This is the first experience for a number of our players. They played well last week and we now need to back it up. Consistency is a big thing for us. Every part of our game needs to improve. Australia have just come out of the Tri-Nations, they have played South Africa three times, New Zealand four times, so they have been rubbing shoulders with the best teams in the world.

"They will be battle-hardened and they will want to come to Twickenham to win. They have some strong runners and are direct. They get the best out of what they have got.

"Their scrum was a weakness but they have worked hard on that. Scrummaging has become the thing to talk about in England-Australia games but we need to be on top of our game.

"We haven't scrummaged that well recently and it is not about reputations, it is about 2.30pm on Saturday."

Australia coach Robbie Deans tonight insisted Twickenham "holds no baggage" for the Wallabies despite their poor recent record at rugby HQ.

Australia have lost on four of their last five visits to Twickenham and the Wallabies were also beaten in their last encounter with England, in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final.

Deans has named a side featuring only six players who featured in that 12-10 defeat in Marseille last October, with only three survivors from a pack left battered and bruised by England's forwards.

The last time Australia were at Twickenham, in 2005, the match ended in uncontested scrums after England's powerful loose-head prop Andrew Sheridan first saw off Al Baxter and then Matt Dunning. Baxter will go up against Sheridan once again after Deans named the same Australia team that lost 19-14 to New Zealand in Hong Kong two weekends ago, except for Hugh McMeniman replacing Dean Mumm at blindside flanker.

Matt Giteau returns to start at fly-half with Stirling Mortlock and Ryan Cross, forging a powerful midfield unit. Deans said, "There's great history in the sporting rivalry between Australia and England and Twickenham is a great stadium and a special ground to play on. We're looking forward to what we anticipate will be a great occasion.

"This is a new group carving out its own way. We won't be distracted by what has gone before. Many of our players have never experienced playing at Twickenham before so it holds no baggage for them.

"The history has no real relevance for what is to come aside, perhaps, from highlighting the scale of the opportunity that is ahead of us."

England's scrum coach Graham Rowntree has been impressed by Australia hooker Stephen Moore and believes the much-maligned Wallabies pack has improved since the World Cup.

He said, "What a fantastic day it was in Marseille but there is no point harping back to it. They have improved significantly, none more so than Stephen Moore. He is a hell of a player. He is abrasive in the tight and he is abrasive in the loose.

"They are a smart team in all facets of the game. They won't let anybody dominate them. I have a lot of respect for them and think they have improved a lot since the last time we played them."

Deans has included rookie fly-half Quade Cooper among the replacements after the 20-year-old came off the bench to seal the Wallabies' victory over Italy with a late try.

England: D Armitage (London Irish); P Sackey (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), R Flutey(Wasps), U Monye (Harlequins); D Cipriani (Wasps), D Care (Harlequins); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), L Mears (Bath), P Vickery (Wasps), S Borthwick(Saracens, capt), T Palmer (Wasps), T Croft (Leicester), T Rees (Wasps), N Easter (Harlequins).

Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), M Stevens (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), J Haskell (Wasps), M Lipman (Bath), H Ellis (Leicester), T Flood (Leicester).

Australia: A Ashley-Cooper (ACT Brumbies); P Hynes (Queensland Reds), R Cross (Western Force), S Mortlock (ACT Brumbies, capt), D Mitchell (Western Force); M Giteau (Western Force), L Burgess (NSW Waratahs); B Robinson (NSW Waratahs), S Moore (Queensland Reds), A Baxter (NSW Waratahs), M Chisholm (ACT Brumbies), N Sharpe (Western Force), H McMeniman (Queensland Reds), G Smith (ACT Brumbies), R Brown (Western Force)

Replacements: T Polota-Nau (NSW Waratahs), M Dunning (NSW Waratahs), D Mumm (NSW Waratahs), W Palu (NSW Waratahs), S Cordingley (Queensland Reds), Q Cooper (Queensland Reds), D Ioane (Queensland Reds)

Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Assistant Referees: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand), Tim Hayes (Wales)
Television Match Official:Giulio de Santis (Italy)
Citing Commissioner: Douglas Hunter (SRU)

© Scrum.com

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