With England drawing first blood in game one last weekend, the series heads down to Melbourne for the second installment. It’s do or die for Australia, while the tourists will be keen to keep their boots on the throats of their opponents.
The Wallabies have made a few necessary changes ahead of Saturday’s match. David Pocock suffered a fractured eye socket and is out for the series while lock Rob Simmons is out with a back injury. Pocock has been replaced by the contagiously energetic Sean McMahon, moving from the bench, while the Brumbies’ Sam Carter replaces Simmons from the extended squad.
Australia has re-jigged their front row stocks with Scott Sio bearing the brunt for his yellow in Brisbane, being removed entirely from the twenty three with James Slipper starting in his stead. Greg Holmes who started in Brisbane has been benched for Sekope Kepu at tight head, with Toby Smith as the reserve loose head. Coming into the series there wasn’t much between the several permutations of props available for the Wallabies though a front row of Slipper, Moore and Kepu is the most experienced and best placed to counter any more jiggery-pokery from the English.
Cheika has opted for the same back line as the first match after Horne was cleared following concerns over concussion. The only question was whether Christian Lealiifano might come into twelve as a second play maker but Cheika seems keen on giving the Kerevidrani (Kerevi/Kuridrani) midfield a chance to bed down.
Edit: Michael Cheika has reduced the squad to 23. Liam Gill, Wycliffe Palu and most surprisingly James Horwill miss out. Outside back Luke Morahan gets his chance for a second cap and the bench is split 5/3
England are more settled coming into this test match with only two changes to their starting side from last match. Centre Luther Burrell is out of the twenty three, being replaced in the starting lineup by George Ford in fly half, meaning kicking machine Owen Farrell moves to inside centre. This isn’t a big change as after twenty eight minutes in Brisbane, this was the inside combination England ran with. Marland Yarde has also been left out of the match day squad, replaced by Jack Nowell who scored England’s final try in Brisbane from the bench.
England’s bench reverts to a six/two split, having had three reserve backs in Brisbane. Jamie George replaces Luke Cowan-Dickie as the reserve rake and flanker Jack Clifford is the extra forward, centre Elliot Daly being the other fresh face.
No real surprises here, Eddie Jones has no reason to mess with the winning formula, but the extra forward in the squad makes it obvious as to where he thinks the game will be won.
The Front Rows
Brisbane saw England take the game away from Australia with experienced front row play. Cheika has aimed to counter this with the most experienced front row available to him, with captain Stephen Moore the only survivor from Brisbane.
Sekope Kepu has been arguably Australia’s most influential player for the last few years, dynamite around the park, but more importantly a real anchor at scrum time. Slipper had a quiet 2015, hampered by several injuries but still contributing through the pain, he’s been surgically rebuilt and can hopefully retake the form that made him GAGR’s player of 2014.Together they have nearly one hundred and forty caps for Australia and should be familiar with the English style of “scrummaging straight”.
England are holding the aces here though. Dane Cole got a lot of attention for his destruction of Sio in Brisbane but you can’t discount Dylan Hartley’s strength at the set piece as a big reason England have improved since the world cup. Loosehead Mako Vunipola had a quiet night by his standards last weekend. I would be surprised to see that happen again, at one hundred and thirty kilograms he’s hard to ignore.
The Wallabies have enough class in their starting front row to match the English but will know they are under the microscope. If there is early ascendency to the visitors it could be a long night for the men in gold. While Polota-Nau and Holmes are solid replacements, Toby Smith won’t want to have to shore up a back peddling scrum when he gets his fourth cap. This matchup could well determine the result- will the Australians get some pride back or will it be salt in Australia’s fresh wounds?
Farrell & Ford vs Foley & the Kerevidrani
While Brisbane saw a points decision go to Farrell as the architect (at least on the scoreboard) of England’s win , it will be interesting to see how this rivalry evolves. Brisbane saw Jones leave Ford on the bench with Farrell in ten and the big boy Burrell in twelve, only to switch things around after twenty eight minutes, bringing playmaker Ford on for Burrell.
It is unusual in professional rugby at any level to see a backline player get subbed before sixty minutes, with no apparent injury. It would therefore seem to have been a premeditated plan by Eddie jones to dramatically change England’s attack when Australia looked to be coasting. From roughly that time onwards England clawed their way back into the contest and while there’s more to it than that substitution, it’s hard not to link the two.
Foley, up to the moment when his try was disallowed, was everywhere setting up tries, linking play, everything you’d want from a ten. It also must be said that Kuridrani had as good a game as any Australian back and Kerevi, despite one glaring error had a pretty good debut and looked quite dangerous also.
I would expect Australia to come out and try and play exactly how they did in that first twenty eight minutes, flinging the ball around with players in motion all around the park. The question is whether it will work, or will Ford’s inclusion (or Burrell’s exclusion) make all the difference? Can Kerevi and Kuridrani gel into the fear inducing centre pairing Wallaby fans dream of? But perhaps most importantly for the hosts, can Foley find his kicking boots? Because Farrell looks in ominous touch and I can’t imagine him having an off night.
This is a tough one to pick. Both teams showed differing strengths in the first test- Australia looked irresistible for the first half an hour and the tries seemed to flow, from there England’s forwards dominated game slowed things down and worked over our scrum. This match will come down to which team can force their style of play on the opposition and earn the most rewards. If England can turn this into a slow-motion scrum fest they will grind out the result again.
England, one game up, have the running going into this fixture but they were fortunate to score as much as they did in Brisbane. I can’t imagine the Wallabies will give away so many kickable penalties this Saturday, nor can I imagine another comedy caper as extreme as the one that led to Jonathan Joseph’s try. I also back Foley to kick a lot better, which isn’t a big ask considering his trademark calmness under pressure.
I expect the Wallabies to come out swinging but this time land a knockout blow, learning from last weeks lessons. It will be tough, beautiful, test match rugby though so bring the esky into the lounge room because you won’t want to miss a second.
Australia by 8.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper.
Reserves(three omitted): 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Ben McCalman , 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Christian Lealiifano, 23 Luke Morahan,
24 Liam Gill, 25 Wycliff Palu, 26 James Horwill
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola.
Reserves: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Jack Clifford, 22 Danny Care, 23 Elliot Daly.
Date: Saturday, June 18
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 20.00 AEST (11.00 UK time; 10.00 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)