England vs Australia: The Key Battles
Hostilities resume between England and the Wallabies at Twickenham on Saturday, with England looking to avenge last November’s reverse.
Australia arrive here after a torrid time in the Rugby Championship but off the back of a decent display in a 41-33 defeat to the All Blacks.
New players and combinations are beginning to find their feet under new coach Ewen McKenzie, and after a few weeks of tough Test rugby, they are arguably more prepared for this clash than the home side. They caught England cold last season under similar circumstances.
Stuart Lancaster gives full home debuts to Billy Vunipola, Joel Tomkins and Marland Yarde while James Horwill has been stripped of the Australian captaincy in favour of No. 8 Ben Mowen, in order for the lock to focus on improving what McKenzie has described as poor recent form.
Let’s have a look at the crucial head to heads.
Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Nick Cummins, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Sitaleki Timani, James Horwill, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen
Replacements: Saia Fainga’a, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Ben McCalman, Nic White, Christian Lealiifano, Bernard Foley.
Mike Brown, Chris Ashton, Joel Tomkins, Billy Twelvetrees, Marland Yarde, Owen Farrell, Lee Dickson, Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw, Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler, David Wilson, Dave Attwood, Ben Morgan, Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, Ben Foden
Robshaw vs Hooper
With the questions over Robshaw’s role in the side, this will give the England captain the chance to silence his doubters against an out-and-out No. 7.
Robshaw is more of a generalist when it comes to back-row play, neither specialising as a turnover-merchant or huge ball carrier, whereas Hooper likes nothing better than to "jackal" over the ball to win back possession.
Whoever comes out on top at the breakdown will have a big say in the result of this game. Robshaw needs a big performance as both an openside and as the leader of the side to cement himself in the team.
If he can get the better of Hooper, those calling for his replacement with Gloucester’s Matt Kvesic will have to wait a little longer.
Hooper showed in this fixture last year how effective he can be, deputising admirably for David Pocock, and has since proved himself as one of the best fetchers in world rugby.
Lawes vs Horwill
Courtney Lawes has the chance to step up as both line-out captain and in general play this weekend. He has arguably been the best player in the Aviva Premiership so far this season and is revelling in the job of calling Northampton line-outs.
With Geoff Parling missing because of a concussion, Lawes will assume that extra line-out responsibility for the national side for the first time, but it is his work rate in the tackle and ability to link play as he did for Chris Ashton’s famous try two years ago that the England management will also want to see from a player yet to fulfil his undoubted potential.
James Horwill is something of a wounded animal. After doing so much to haul his side back into the Lions series in that second Test in summer, he has endured a miserable time during the Rugby Championship and now finds himself back in the rank and file.
Were it not for injuries, he may well not have been starting. It would be typically Australian of him were he to be the best player on the park on Saturday, and he has the quality to come close. This should be a wonderful tussle.
Dickson vs Genia
Will Genia has plenty to prove to Ewen McKenzie after he was dropped during the Rugby Championship.
Given he was one of Australia’s best players during the Lions Test series—and over the past few years—it was the most surprising decision McKenzie has made to date.
He starts on Saturday, though, and finds himself up against a player who has fought long and hard to nudge his way up the No. 9 pecking order for England.
Lee Dickson is rewarded for his form in a Northampton shirt, and you hope the occasion doesn’t get to him.
Against a man of Genia’s talent and experience, he faces the ultimate test, and it’s doubtless an area the experts will be keen to dissect.
Tomkins vs Kuridrani
Rugby league convert Joel Tomkins gets his chance in the absence of Manu Tuilagi but brings an altogether different skill set to the England side.
But, while England fans will be keen to see what the Saracens man can add to the Red Rose’s attacking arsenal, he will also need to be defensively sound against one of the brightest new talents in the Wallaby line-up.
Tevita Kuridrani has been impressing observers as esteemed as World Cup winning coach Bob Dwyer with his ball carrying ability.
The Back Three
Several factors make the matchups across jerseys 11, 14 and 15 intriguing.
The solid, if unspectacular, Mike Brown gets his chance at full-back for England and comes up against the player who has made a stunning start to his rugby union Test career.
Israel Folau can seemingly do it all, from beating men in space the size of a phone box to leaping improbably high to claim balls from the sky.
If Australia manage to isolate either Brown or new boy Marland Yarde, putting a bomb up for Folau to beat them could prove hugely profitable for Australia.
With the experienced Adam Ashley-Cooper also posing an ever-present threat, there are dangers for the England trio to snuff out.
Chris Ashton needs to repay the faith shown in him by Stuart Lancaster with a return to his old self, but he and his colleague will also have to contend with the third member of the Aussie back three who scored the winning try at Twickenham last year, before going on this crazy rant about his beloved Honey Badgers.
Nick Cummins might come across as daft as a brush, but he is bristling with talent. England beware, the badger is back.