Sat, Nov 27, 2004 - Page 18 News List

It's just like old times in upcoming rugby contests


England faces Australia and France meets New Zealand.

It might sound like turning the clock back a year to the World Cup but Australia coach Eddie Jones and France's Bernard Laporte will be hoping for totally different results.

England beat the Wallabies in a dramatic World Cup final last November and, although Australia crushed England 51-15 in Brisbane in June, the English papers are comparing Saturday's matchup with the extra-time thriller in Sydney.

New Zealand outplayed a second-string France 40-13 at the World Cup to capture third place a year ago. But France went on to take the Six Nations title from England and, until last weekend's upset 24-14 loss to Argentina, had won eight games in a row.

The matchups at Twickenham and the Stade de France are the highlights of another busy weekend of international test matches in Europe. Tri-Nations champion South Africa goes to Scotland, Ireland hosts Argentina, Italy welcomes the US, and Wales receives Japan.

Wallaby coach Jones faces a different England lineup to the one he encountered in Sydney and Brisbane.

Andy Robinson has taken over from Clive Woodward as coach and former rugby league star Jason Robinson -- no relation -- is the team captain.

Coach Robinson has another former league star, Henry Paul, in the center. And, with Jonny Wilkinson still sidelined through injury, Charlie Hodgson has stepped in at flyhalf and scored all but five of England's points in last Saturday's impressive 32-16 victory over South Africa.

With Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back retired from international rugby and Richard Hill missing with a long-term knee injury, England has built a new back row, although all three -- Joe Worsley, Lewis Moody and Martin Corry -- played at the World Cup.

Jones doesn't have broken-arm victim Stephen Larkham at flyhalf and center Stirling Mortlock, who has a fractured cheekbone. But he said he will look for weaknesses in the England defense.

"With direct defense like England has you have got to make a dent somewhere and then look to the outside," the Wallaby coach said.

"You can't throw the ball wide. You never go round England. They only defend 65 percent of the field, but sides very rarely make outside breaks because that is where they want you to go. You have got to cut that line somewhere.

"I think we have got a flyhalf [Elton Flatley] and an inside center [Matt Giteau] that are reasonable distributors of the ball which means we can attack in close or get some width in our game if we get good ball.

"We have definitely got some pace and footwork in the back three with Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and Chris Latham."

Frederic Michalak makes the rare move from flyhalf to scrumhalf for the game against the All Blacks as France aims to bounce back from its surprise loss to the Pumas.

First-choice scrumhalf and backup goalkicker Jean-Baptiste Elissalde is missing with the rib injury he sustained during the loss to Argentina, while Michalak's place at flyhalf goes to Julien Peyrelongue.

"This team was impressive against Australia (27-14), but really disappointing against Argentina," Laporte said. "Now, the players have one game left to prove their quality and their desire to show something else than what they did against the Pumas."

Having squeezed by Wales 26-25, New Zealand has made seven changes, recalling center and team captain Tana Umaga who was rested for the game in Cardiff.

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