Cook Cup Musings: Wallabies v. England pre-Match analysis

Cook Cup musings: Wallabies v. England pre-match analysis

Cook Cup musings: Wallabies v. England pre-match analysis

Ahead of the Wallabies versus England Cook Cup clash on Sunday morning (1.30am AEDT), I thought I’d have a look at England in a little more detail, to see where the threats and opportunities may lie for the Wallabies.

England’s attacking structure

Since Stuart Lancaster (below) and Andy Farrell took over at the helm of the English side they have mainly concentrated on making England tough to beat; they have a clear game plan built around discipline at the breakdown, a good kick chase and rugby league style up-and-in defensive structure. In this time the score difference between England and their opponents after 80 minutes has averaged around 4. England tend to frustrate the opposition without the ball but not do too much with the pill unless they are playing tier two nations. They have barely blown any team away in the latest World Cup cycle (a ‘poisoned’ All Blacks aside).

In the last Six Nations England opted to field 3 blokes who have played a lot of their professional rugby at 10 and a full back in their backline. While this gave them a good kicking game, some of their play with ball in hand was sleep inducing. In order to rectify this the Red Rose have indicated that they will go more attacking structure in their backline, which has been partly brought on by injuries to Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi.

What does this mean for the Wallabies this Saturday?

It means that England will try to play a more ball in hand game with far less kicking. It also means that they will have a couple of suspect defenders in midfield with Billy Twelvetrees and rugby loig convert Joel Tompkins outside of him. Sounds great in theory but for this to work it will require the English pack to get their ball carriers over the gain line consistently; this is an area where the English have struggled massively for a long time.

This year there seems to be a lot of hope placed on the Vunipola brothers being the two guys to ignite the English pack in attack but I don’t see enough ball carrying in the England eight to trouble the Aussies. Expect to see a lot of east to west travelling with ball in hand by the English backs and quite a few handling errors as their young backs are exposed to top level international rugby for the first time. If the Wallabies can be disciplined and patient without the ball they’ll have gone a long way to retaining the bragging rights over the old enemy.

stuart lancaster

England’s defensive structure in midfield

Leading on from how England’s new attacking structures could pan out – how can the Wallabies take advantage of the upcoming shift in English philosophy? Well for one, England’s midfield defence will be considerably weaker without the understanding developed between Farrell, Barritt and Manu T, as well as the defensive ability of the latter two. Whatever way you look at it their replacements aren’t as good in this aspect of play.

If as expected the Wallabies line up with Cooper and Toomua as their 10 and 12, they have two play makers to take advantage of any defensive slip-ups in midfield. The Wallabies need to get Hooper and Folau running at the gaps that will appear here; if  Cooper can find put Australia’s two big line breakers into the gaps there will be scores aplenty for the Wallabies.

If the Wallabies can get a lead I don’t believe England to have a team built for chasing the game, so the first couple of scores are crucial. England’s defence could be vulnerable to the kind of filleting that Argentina’s got, but it requires Genia and Cooper to have similar games and the Australian pack to secure them some quick ball. Also with a more expansive approach there will be an increase in handling errors from the English and therefore turnover ball for Genia and Cooper to work with, if the realignment of the outside sides is good the Wallabies will look to punish any unforced turnovers with points.

X Factor

Let’s face it neither team has a lot of it. Australia however have more than England and they must get the ball to the guys who can make things happen out of nothing as often as possible. Very few of the English players will have seen Israel Folau in the flesh before let alone come up against him on the field. There are only so many videos you can look at with a bloke as talented as Izzy and with some suspect defence possible from the English, Folau could announce himself to Europe in style.

As the Rugby Championship went on Folau looked to be gelling better with the play makers around him and I’m expecting another big game from Izzy on Saturday. This tour is a chance for him to cement himself as rugby’s premier attacking player and I think he’ll go a long way to doing this on Saturday.

Set piece

Meat and potatoes

Every team is going to look attack the Wallabies in the scrum this tour. All referees will be going in with a perception that Australia’s scrum is ripe for the picking by the Northern Hemisphere front rows. However, England’s scrum isn’t all that hot either. With Alex Corbisiero injured the English pack gave up penalties and free kicks galore in the 6 Nations culminating in a grand slam game in Cardiff where they gave up 6 penalties and 3 free kicks. This should be an even battle on Saturday and Australia should go after Mako Vunipola who is a very weak scrummager on the loose head side.

Place kicking

Ah yes the old Wallaby failing, place kicking woes have cost the Wallabies in games against Ireland (RWC ’11), Scotland (09, 12) and the Lions amongst others. Christian Lealiifano looked to be 90% goal kicker that the Wallabies needed however with Lilo ruled out due to injury, can Quade Cooper hold his nerve and trust his technique to kick Australia to a Grand Slam? If he can’t England have a dead eye goal kicker who won’t hesitate to make the Wallabies pay at every available opportunity.


As most pundits have said, this England side is not one to underestimate and will not make life easy for the Wallabies. But while Australia are missing some big names, so too England are short on experience is some crucial areas. This should see the Wallabies home – potentially in some style – if they play well.

  • Rob

    If England are smart they will kick in behind like the blecks did in Bledisloe 3 and take advantage of the fact that Folau is constantly out of position (partly his fault and partly that the game plan is to constantly use him in attack like a centre). Huge part of the game will be Cooper and the wings playing 15 in Folau’s absence. Here’s hoping England aren’t smart.

    • Moz

      And if they read what you just wrote, Rob…….

  • Ian Daley

    The first 10 minutes will set the tone for the game. Weather permitting, we need to come out hard and blow them off the park. I know… textbook stuff really, but use our loosies whilst they’re fresh and get that ball moving to outside backs running great lines. Seems simple enough right?

  • Antony

    “This tour is a chance for him (Folau) to cement himself as rugby’s premier attacking player…”

    Is “Brendan” a pen-name for Georgina Robinson?

    I really like Folau, I think he’s a freak and a good bloke, and some of the stuff he’s done this year has been jaw-dropping.

    But I think Habana, de Villiers, North, Fofana, O’Driscoll, Halfpenny and the entire All Blacks backline (+ Read) might have something to say about the sturdiness of that cement. A good tour will put him in the conversation, but it won’t be deciding anything. Hell, I don’t even know if he’s Australia’s best attacking player. Are we really saying he’s better on attack than Cooper or Genia at their best? Or even O’Connor/Beale.

    Let’s see how teams adjust to him in his second year in the code before dropping too many absolutes. Like you said, the Europeans haven’t even seen him yet, so it won’t be too surprising if they don’t know how to stop him.

    • Seb V

      I would say he is pretty close to Cooper and Genia at their best, or even JOC/Beale. Some will argue no, some will argue he is better. But I think what we can all agree on is he is consistently a threat. There has not been one game i can re-call where he has not injected himself at least once. The same cannot be said for Cooper, Genia, JOC and Beale who have loads of off games. They probably have had more ‘off games’ then ‘on games’. The consistent threat of Falou makes him special.

    • Hoges

      “Is “Brendan” a pen-name for Georgina Robinson?”

      was thinking this sounded like a Waratahs press release…..sorry I meant SMH story…..

    • Antony

      Just to clarify Brendan, I’m not having a go at the whole article (which is insightful and interesting). Just the folau-tio.

      • Parker

        Great word coinage Antony!

    • Klaus

      Folau is Australia’s best attacking weapon no doubt. But he is also one of our worst defenders and for an international player this needs to improve a lot more than his attack.

  • Dane

    By the sounds of this, England will be giving up another 79-0 (?) thrashing ala Brisbane all those years ago. If ‘Brendan’ is right, the only part of the game where England will be competitive will be the breakdown. If Australia can minimise their errors (yeah right!) and reduce the number of penalties conceded (Ben Mowen), one would think they’d get over the line.
    A gloomy picture it is here for Ole’ Angle-Land, I thought they were supposed to be the biggest hurdle to getting the Grand Slam (other than the wallabies themselves). Maybe it will be a cakewalk!

    • Brendan

      Just calling it as I see the current English set up, their expected line up doesn’t feature too many names that the Wallabies should be afraid of. They are also missing their two top performers of the Lions tour, and will have two inexperienced guys in midfield. If England go with a more expansive approach they have been talking up in the press I doubt they’ll be able to match any of the Southern Hemisphere teams as their skill levels aren’t good enough.

      It won’t be a walk in the park for the Wallabies but there isn’t too much they should be losing sleep over. If, and a big if, they can defend well the opportunities will come to put points on the English. The only way England will win will be in multiples of 3.

      • Patrick

        Coaches have been known to mislead before… I’m tipping a forwards slug-fest from England

    • Bill

      It was 76 -0 actually. They stayed in it for the first 30 and then the heavens opened…raining tries.

      I’m not sure if it was that test or one of the saffa ones that featured one of the funnier pitch invasions I’ve seen. Some big country boy ran the length of the field towards play clutching his beer, pursued by the security, coming up to goalposts he must have realised he was going to Costa Concordia them and stepped them just in time for the security guy to dive at him and clatter the post instead. Don’t normally commend pitch invaders but that was pretty entertaining in an accidental fashion.

  • Tunnel

    I cannot agree with two aspects of this article. Firstly why would England give up the kicking game when the Wallabies have such an appalling record of catch and return or even catching. Just look at our ability to receive the kick-off. Secondly the turnovers and handling errors you have highlighted as an opportunity to capitalise upon…HELLO in Bledisloe 3 the Wallabies had the following: 21 missed tackles, 24 TURNOVERS and conceded 11 penalties. That many penalties alone would be a match winner if England kick them all let alone the turnovers. I doubt even as unprepared as you suggest the England backline will be, that they will make this many turnovers so if anyone has an opportunity to capitalise we know who it will be.

  • david baldwin

    With all due respect this has got to be the most ill-informed article that I have read on this website!!

    How can you argue that Australia or England dont have any X-Factor – Folau, Cooper, Tomane, Yarde are all players who can bust a game open and if Mike Brown is picked then you can add another to the list. The bloke has a very Cory Jane like ability to wriggle through tackles, he seems really well balanced as a runner!

    How can you suggest that there will be “gaps aplenty” what a load of tripe!! The English defensive system does not leave gaps aplenty – they leave two big gaps on either side of the field but that is it. They are defensively sound through the middle and they leave quite spectacular gaps on the fringe.

    The suggestion that we will just roll through them is farcical – this is an English team that I think will challenge the AB’s for the 2015 RWC if they can get all their players on the park, get selections right (that means canning Flood and Farrell and letting Burns and Ford take the reigns) and letting Catt take the attack, not Farrell, they could really give the cup a shake and look (to me at least) the equal of NZ to a man – and I am a Wallabies supporter!!

    I think a loss to the AB’s is not cause for such zealous optimism – our pack needs to work their arse off and dominate their opposite number to a man before we can even get close to thinking about taking advantage of the “gaps aplenty”

    • Hendo

      Agree that England have a good chance at the WC if they can get out of a tough group as Wales (arguably) and Oz (no argument) have more talent and will be peaking nicely come the WC. I’ve found Lancaster pretty impressive in the way he’s rebuilt pride in their shirt, started building a sound defence and now looking for more attack.
      Also agree that Burns and Ford offer more of an attacking threat at 10. Farrell usually just shifts the ball, rarely attacks the line and really lacks pace – solid defence for a 10 tho. I think an England centre partnership of Eastmond and Tuilagi (when fit) would be very potent. Not sure why Foden hasn’t been full back that often under Lancaster. Very surprised Stefon Armitage isn’t playing 7 either…

  • Basos

    The scrum is not as bad as everyone makes out. Robinson at loose head and if the lazy bastard Alexander keeps his arse down, then the scrum will be OK. Simmons is too soft and is not a Test player — sorry Link.

    • Hendo

      Hey mate (and others) hope I’m not being too much of a peanut in the peanut gallery here, but I thought a prop had to keep their shoulders below / level with their arse scrrrum time?

      • Mica

        Shoulders level ideally; if they are below and scrum collapses you should be pinged. If they are above the opposition prop has more of a chance to get underneath you and as Nutta so eloquently put it in his sensational response to Mastering the Dark Arts a few months back “if this happens my friend, then you are f**ked” – BTW if you haven’t read this article, do yourself a favour and seek it out!

    • Klaus

      Basos funny how he is first choice now though? You can hardly call his work soft this test season surely?

  • wokenfuries

    You underestimate both the English centres and the ball carrying abilities of the forwards. Twelvetrees is probably now ahead of Barritt when fit. Tomkins too is a very good player, and if there is one thing he is not good at, it isn’t defence. He is part of the Sarries backline, which has as good defence as some international sides. They are both big guys too- there won’t be the holes in midfield that you mention. They are also better distributors than Brad/Manu. Throw in a revitalized Ashton (been in fantastic form for Sarries), a real livewire in Yarde and Brown (who has been imperious) and the England backline actually looks pretty threatening. Australias is still definitely more impressive, but do not make the mistake of writing this England team off as only being able to play dour 10 man rugby.

    In regards to ball carrying, either of Billy V or Morgan will be destructive off the back of the scrum, Mako and T Youngs are two of the most dynamic front rowers about and Lawes and Launchbury are both able with ball in hand. The area that this England team will be weakest in will be rucks and set piece, where I am worried that we will struggle.

    • Mica

      Great response. Thanks for the insight. Love how this site brings knowledgeable comment from around the world.

    • goodNumber10

      agreed… we should also remember that Tomkins is a League international, and played some pretty intense super league for Wigan over the years – yes it’s no NRL but do a quick search on youtube for Joel Tomkins Wakefield try, or Wigan Warriors fans try fo the season 2011.

    • m0b1us

      Agree with most of that. I see Geech has come out saying that we need to use our scrum to best advantage – echoes of the same fixture last year.

      I’m hoping for parity in the scrum; I think our front row is better but the G&G back 5 are generally bigger and heavier – particularly in the second row. All
      the English forwards need to carry better than they have done recently – hopefully Billy can make the step up.

      If we want to play ‘up your jumper’ rugby I’d have started Morgan and Billy V and played Wood at openside. An on form Morgan (which he isn’t at the moment tbf) is right up there with the best in the world for my money.


Rugby tragic from the Emerald Isle who now calls Sydney home.

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