The knockout stage of the World Cup is finally here with Australia set to take on England on Saturday, with both teams having contrasting paths to the quarter-finals. Whilst the Wallabies have seemingly struggled at some stage during each match of the pool stages, England hasn’t seemed to be troubled yet, cruising to first place in Pool C after their clash with France was cancelled.
Whilst England may have an imposing record over Australia, both sides will be eager to book their place in the semi-finals in the grudge match, with the loser set to say goodbye to their Australian-born coach.
The Wallabies got off to a slow start in 2019, losing 35-17 to the Springboks at Ellis Park in a sloppy performance that saw the side waste possession and opportunities. The side would bounce back over the next fortnight, defeating the Pumas 20-16 and producing their greatest performance since the last World Cup to dominate the All Blacks 47-26 at Optus Stadium.
Unfortunately, this dream turned into a nightmare, with the All Blacks dominating from the opening whistle the following week, shutting out the Wallabies 36-0 in a disappointing performance with the Bledisloe on the line. They would regain some form in their final warmup game, with a second-string side defeating Samoa 34-15.
The Wallabies got their World Cup campaign off to a shaky start, with a come-from-behind 39-21 victory against Fiji to open their Rugby World Cup campaign. They trailed for the majority of the match, before the injection of halfback Will Genia and a double to hooker Tolu Latu changed the contest, with the Wallabies scoring 27 points in the second half to secure victory. This continued into their following game, falling to a narrow three-point loss to Wales. The Aussies were unable to overcome a slow start and some questionable refereeing decisions, which all but shattered their dreams of topping the group.
They bounced back with a dominant 45-10 win over Uruguay, with Tevita Kuridrani and Dane Haylett-Petty pressing their case for selection with a double. Australia would finish off the group stages with a tough win over Georgia, with a miraculous Marika Koroibete try and two late efforts in the last ten minutes sealing the 27-8
England comes into the tournament as one of the major contenders for the title, with the side witnessing a resurgence under Aussie Eddie Jones. His influence was immediately shown during their 17-game winning streak in 2016/2017.
England finished off 2018 strongly, with wins over Japan, Australia and South Africa followed with a narrow loss to the All Blacks by a point. However, they struggled to meet their lofty expectations in the Six Nations, losing to Wales and blowing a 31 point lead against Scotland to draw the match. The side split their pre-World Cup series with Wales, followed by thumping wins over Ireland and Italy.
They started their tournament off on a positive note, with a double to beast centre Manu Tuilagi helping England to a 35-3 bonus-point victory over Tonga. This was followed up by a dominant 45-7 win over the USA thanks to a double to Joe Cokanasiga and a masterful display from George Ford. Their first real challenge appeared to be against Argentina, however, an early red card to Tomás Lavanini ensured that they coasted him 39-10. England’s final match against France was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis.
The Wallabies have made some big changes to the side that defeated Georgia, notably the selection of 19-year-old Jordan Petaia. Petaia reverts to his favoured position of outside centre, with James O’Connor dropping to the bench. Reece Hodge returns from his three-match ban on the wing, whilst Will Genia slots to the starting line-up in place of Nic White. Kurtley Beale has been tentatively named at fullback but must still pass return to play protocols after being concussed against Georgia, with Dane Haylett-Petty on standby.
England has dropped their own selection surprise by dumping star playmaker George Ford to the bench. Captain Owen Farrell switches from No. 12 to 10, Manu Tuilagi from 13 to 12 with Henry Slade the new man to mark Petaia at outside centre. The Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, have recovered from injury scares to take their place in the starting line-up, joined by lock Courtney Lawes, who starts ahead of George Kruis.
Kerevi/Petaia v Tuilagi/Slade
Both teams have made some shock decisions in the centres which will have a massive impact on the game. Michael Cheika has decided to reunite the Reds pair of Samu Kerevi and Jordan Petaia, throwing the three-game rookie into the cauldron. As always, Kerevi is the x-factor for the Wallabies side and his combination with Petaia, along with how the 19-year-old handles the pressure of the quarter-finals, will be crucial to Australia’s attack. If they can find a way to especially isolate Farrell, it will go a long way to securing the win for Australia.
Eddie Jones has seemingly reacted to the threat of Kerevi, choosing to drop George Ford and opted for the bigger bodies of Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade. The pair had a shaky combination in the Six Nations and it will be interesting to see how they look to potentially exploit Petaia, along with adapting to not having a dominant second playmaker like Ford.
Billy Vunipola v Isi Naisarani
Billy Vunipola has been one of the key benefactors from the cancelled game, having tweaked his ankle during the win over Argentina. The Brisbane-born number eight will be looking to inflict punishment on his home country and his go-forward and presence at set-piece time will be crucial to England controlling the contest.
He comes up against Fijian-born Aussie Isi Naisarani, who will be looking to make a statement against one of the world’s best. Naisarani hasn’t seemed to have found his rampant form from The Rugby Championship and he needs to step up against the experienced head of Vunipola if the Wallabies wish to compete and cause the upset.
Numbers that matter (Thanks to Opta Sports)
210-120: England have beat Australia in their last six games by a combined margin of 90 points, scoring 30 or more in five out of their six wins
71: England have been on the opposite end of two red cards, meaning that they have played 71 minutes with a man advantage in their three games
33-13: The score-line the last time that both teams played in a World Cup knock-out game in 2015, with Australia winning thanks to 28 points from Bernard Foley
627: Australia tops the tournament in terms of carries (627), with Samu Kerevi (48) leading the way for the Wallabies
3: The number of yellow cards given up by Australia, with England yet to cope the rath of the referee (aka Ben Skeen)
7: Number of turnovers recorded by England’s Mario Itoje in the two games that he has played.
I think England have a much more settled and confident lineup than ours and unfortunately, I reckon that will be the difference. The extra week off will have them primed for a big showing and the lack of discipline and the wayward goalkicking from Australia so far does not bode well in the crunch time, which is where I think the game will be won.
Match Prediction: England by 5
Bold Prediction: Owen Farrell 15+ points.
Wallabies (15-1): Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Christian Lealiifano, Will Genia, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (c), David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio
Reserves: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Nic White, Matt To’omua, James O’Connor
England (15-1): Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Owen Farrell (c), Ben Youngs, Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola
Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz, George Ford, Jonathan Joseph
Date: Saturday October 19
Venue: Ōita Bank Dome, Ōita
Kick-off: 6:15 pm AEDT (4:15pm local time)
Where to Watch: Fox Sports 3 (Channel 503), RWC 4K (499) and Channel 10 (Free To Air)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)