Eddie Jones needs his England players to grab the headlines rather than his ranting and raving at Twickenham tomorrow by defeating an Australian team equipped to expose any weaknesses in the second best team in the World.
Jones has been a pains to portray the Wallabies as the form team of international rugby and even suggested they currently top the rankings rather than their official position behind New Zealand and England and that is all part of his strategy heading into what could be an outstanding test match.
The Wallabies have beaten New Zealand and Wales on the way to Twickenham but come into the game having lost their last four matches against Jones’s men and that is highly significant. Despite finding a settled team, based on size a power in the forwards and backs, Wallaby coach Michael Cheika also knows that England have an unbeaten record at Twickenham under Jones, who has lost just one of 21 matches in charge.
Jones believes that kind of domination has been too quickly kicked into the long grass because the 21-8 win over Argentina last Saturday failed to stir English blood in the Twickenham stands and images of the coach swearing and throwing his pen about the coach’s box confirmed it was a performance lacking the fluency and execution he demands.
In preparation for tomorrow’s match, Jones has bought a new white pen so if he does throw it at least the colour is patriotic! As an Australian he knows only too well what will be motivating the opposition and while the cricket loving Jones is effectively facing a Jeff Thomson/Dennis Lillee attack tomorrow he is confident his men are more than equipped to deal with the physical threat the Wallabies pose.
The Wallaby centres Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani are two stones a man heavier than Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph but that only becomes an issue if the England pack fails to win the battle up front. That is why Joe Launchbury, the Wasps captain, has been drafted into the second row to provide added ballast to the scrum and a unique ability to destroy opposition mauls.
Launchbury would be the starting lock in most international teams but has to wait his turn due to the second row riches Jones has at his disposal. The 6ft 6ins, 19st 6lbs Wasps captain may have a cherubic face but he is capable of delivering the kind of power-based game that cause opponents serious problems, particularly as they try to construct a driving maul. This is a weapon the Wallabies believe can give them a real advantage up front and it remains one area of forward play that is a work in progress for England.
Maro Itoje, like Farrell up for World Rugby Player of the Year, is amongst a strong replacements bench that will be asked to either save the game or finish off the Wallabies. England have a rookie No7 in Sam Underhill but have surrounded him with experienced, hard-nosed forwards who will be tasked with delivering a quintessentially English forward effort full of physical threat and relentless work rate. Jones knows that this is absolutely vital if the fastest back three he has ever assembled in an England back line is to be unleashed to full effect.
The loss of Mike Brown to concussion has allowed Anthony Watson a full game at full back and his pace will supplement Elliot Daly’s speed on the left wing and the lightning fast pace of Jonny May on the other flank. However, unless the English forwards improve the speed of ball they delivered against Argentina, that trio will have to live off scraps which will not be enough to take care of the Wallabies.
Australian coach Michael Cheika, who saw his side earn a 13th-straight win over Wales in Cardiff, knows what is coming at Twickenham and said: “Obviously they are a big side, strong, they are a very powerful side, they will try bully us around. Traditionally that’s the way they game has gone. They try bully us at scrum, at the lineout and at the ruck – trying to get into it, niggle, trying to get into our half pack after he passes, the ten after he passes. There is so much footage of that. Wait for us to crack.”
Jones refutes those claims and insists his players will be “legal” but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to inflict considerable harm on the Wallabies. England need a ruthless, clinically efficient performance to continue their drive towards the 2019 World Cup and there will be plenty of images of a smiling Jones on the screen tomorrow if that happens.