Sunday’s match against England give the Wallabies a tremendous opportunity to remove their old foe as a serious threat in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
While there has some been some conjecture Australia may be underdone, I do not subscribe to that line of thought. Australian coach Michael Cheika has been careful to ensure that he has a starting fifteen against England which is fit and fresh, and raring to go. And he will need every bit of this.
Host nation England are desperate – a loss to Australia will see them ingloriously exit the Rugby World Cup at the Pool stage. That is not an outcome the RFU or the legions of English rugby supporters will be able to tolerate. England coach Stuart Lancaster knows that if his team loses he will be the first to go, followed by his support staff.
Desperation is both a benefit and curse for teams with their backs against the wall. England is a good rugby team – of that there is no doubt. There is also no doubt that the issue for both sides will be one of discipline.
However, the problem for England will be the enormous pressure they are under. With pressure comes mistakes. With mistakes come penalties and with penalties come points – provided the Wallabies have a goal-kicker who can kick them.
While Australia’s Bernard Foley has done well in some pressure situations – such as his 44-metre kick to boot the Waratahs to victory in the 2014 Super Rugby final, the issue is one of consistency.
With a success rate of fluctuating between 70 and 80 per cent, the simple fact is this may not be good enough. The success rate of other kickers at the Cup is well over 80 per cent.
Australia’s Achilles heel is that we do not have a goal kicker of the calibre of England’s Owen Farrell or Wales’ Dan Biggar, who are both short and long range goal kicking specialists.
According to a goal-kicking website, Bernard Foley is ranked 10th at this year’s Rugby World Cup with England’s Owen Farrell ranked No 2 and Wales’ Dan Biggar No 1.
History shows World Cups are usually won on the back of a goal-kicking sharpshooter as evidenced below:
1987 – Grant Fox of New Zealand
1991 – Michael Lynagh of Australia
1995 – Joel Stransky of South Africa
1999 – Matt Burke of Australia
2003 – Johnny Wilkinson of England
2007 – Percy Montgomery of South Africa
2011 – Injuries to New Zealand’s Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Colin Slade
skewed that year’s results.
Subject to the goal kicking issue, Australia has a tremendous opportunity to put England to the sword. The Wallabies are strong across the park, both in attack and defence. Their scrum has improved considerably and while England will put it to the test, they should not read too much into the dominance they displayed in this area the last time these two sides met at Twickenham.
The spotlight has been placed on the technique of England’s loosehead prop Joe Marlar who has been accused by former 1991 Rugby World Cup winning coach Bob Dwyer of illegal scrummaging by not packing straight.
England will also try to use their formidable lineout as a weapon against the Wallabies and play for field position. An injury to hooker and lineout thrower Stephen Moore could see the Wallabies in a world of hurt in this area.
Defensively, England are strong. They put enormous pressure on Fiji in their first pool match forcing the latter’s inexperienced No 10 to kick away possession in a fruitless attempt to relive the pressure his outside backs were under. It is indeed arguable that England was offside defensively on a number of occasions but were not penalised.
Against Wales, England again showed considerable resolve in defending aggressively and denying time and space, and will be looking to do this again against the Wallabies, who can be lethal given some breathing room. Unlike Fiji however, the Wallabies will not hand hard won possession over to England on a platter.
Expect to see the Wallabies forwards take on England by hitting the ball up to gain yardage before throwing the ball wide to their backs. The old adage of going forward before you go wide remains true today as it ever did. If Fiji had taken heed of this edict, they may well have gone closer to defeating England.
Despite the loss, Fiji showed up the English back row by securing nine turnovers, and this must be a cause of considerable concern for English coach Stuart Lancaster, with England trying to come to turns with both Hooper and Pocock on the field.
England has an excellent fullback in Mike Brown who is an extremely aggressive runner and a delight to watch. The match-up between him and Australia’s fullback Israel Folau should be a highlight of the game.
My tip? Australia to edge out England, provided the Wallabies are disciplined and patient and do not suffer injuries to No 10 Bernard Foley or hooker and captain Stephen Moore.