England not dwelling on Marseille memories
November 13, 2008
England's Andrew Sheridan and Australia's Matt Dunning exchange pleasantries during their Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash in Marseille last year © Getty Images
An England-Australia game is, "one that everybody looks forward to" according to England skipper Steve Borthwick and journalists are no exception.
Cast an eye across your newspaper of choice and the wealth of coverage dedicated to the various aspects of this weekend's fixture will reaffirm this with a large proportion of those column inches centring on last year's Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash in Marseille.
That memorable day at the Stade Velodrome may be fresh in the minds of assorted journos and fans but it has long since been cast to the history books by England, and no doubt by Australia, despite the media's attempts to draw paralells to Saturday's Twickenham clash.
Or that's what they say anyway.
"This match is a world away from that quarter-final and we don't want to get dragged down with what happened in 2007," forwards coach John Wells insisted at a press briefing at Twickenham on Thursday. Wells, like Wallabies coach Robbie Deans this week, was keen to play down the significance of that day in the south of France when England got the nudge on the Australian pack again with Andrew Sheridan the key weapon.
Borthwick toed the same line. "What happened in the World Cup is irrelevant because so many players have changed in the teams and both sides are working with new coaches."
Only six out of the sixteen forwards who packed down at Stade Velodrome will go toe-to-toe on Saturday - Phil Vickery, Andrew Sheridan and Nick Easter for England and Stephen Moore, Nathan Sharpe and George Smith for Australia. Memories of that mauling may well have been blanked out by the Wallabies but rest assured that, despite the public face, Vickery and Sheridan will pack down with a fair amount of confidence on Saturday afternoon.
"Australia are aware of what put them under pressure in the World Cup quarter-final. They are a more physical team now and they have worked on their scrummage," said Wells. "With the size of their pack and their backs, they have increased their physicality in the side as a whole. Judging by the way they have been playing I suspect it will be an all out battle this weekend."
But the front row is not the only area that has seen change.
This weekend's visit of Australia to Twickenham has an added twist with the presence of former Wallabies international Brian Smith amongst the England coaching ranks. Smith, notably absent from media duties, is a dual international having pulled on Australia's and Ireland's colours during his career and is now a key part in the new backroom team put together by England manager Martin Johnson.
Australia also have a new coaching set-up headed by New Zealander Robbie Deans and the progress made by the side under the former Crusaders boss will not have been lost on England. Of particular note is the presence of Michael Foley and Jim Williams a shis assistants giving added clout to a pack that not so long again did not have a dedicated scrum coach.
The Wallabies too have some impressive scalps to their name so far in 2008 with historic away victories over South Africa in Durban and New Zealand in Sydney. They also suffered heavily at the hands of the Springboks - although with a much-changed side - and scraped past Italy in Padua last weekend so like England are not quite the finished article.
According to defence coach Mike Ford, this latest incarnation of the Wallabies is anchored around the 'talisman' that is Stirling Mortlock and 'magician' Matt Giteau. A potent attacking force, they have not failed to score a try in 11 clashes this year, and Ford is relishing the challenge.
"It's a game of wits and we are trying to second-guess what their coach, Robbie Deans, is going to do."
The match-up between Giteau and Danny Cipriani is particularly fascinating with the England No.10 set for the latest test of his international credentials. The confident Wasps star wants to be the best in the world and as an admirer of his Australian counterpart will not be expecting to have things all his own way. But his coaches are confident in his ability and temperament to deal with this step up.
"Danny wants to be one of the best players in the world and he realises one of the responsibilities of a fly-half who wants to be number one is that he has got to defend in that channel," said Ford. "If we hide someone in defence and the opposition don't get him in the first phase, they will get him second. My experience at international level is that they will find him out."
The general consensus is that Australia have come a long way in the last 12 months and after this weekend we will have a clearer idea as to whether England are on the right track too.