Sat, Nov 15, 2008 - Page 18 News List

England ponder if power can tame Wallabies

AFP , LONDON

England coach Martin Johnson, center, is pictured during a team training session at Bagshot, England, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Conventional wisdom, in the northern hemisphere at least, has it that should England’s front-row perform their usual demolition job on the Australian scrum then a win at Twickenham today is assured.

When the Wallabies were last in London, in 2005, England’s Andrew Sheridan inflicted a huge beating upon Al Baxter, his front-row opponent again this weekend, and the Australian was sent to the sin-bin for collapsing the scrum.

Sheridan wrecked Australia’s scrum again during England’s 12-10 World Cup quarter-final win in Marseille last year.

Clearly if England achieve such set-piece dominance again they will be well on the way to victory.

And the fact manager Martin Johnson, who captained England to a World Cup final win over Australia in Sydney five years ago, has recalled grizzled prop Phil Vickery and selected lock Tom Palmer indicates the regard he has for the set-piece.

But, in the Tri-Nations, the Australia pack more than held its own during wins over New Zealand and world champions South Africa.

England, in their first outing under Johnson, beat the Pacific Islanders 39-13 at Twickenham last week in a match where they struggled at the scrum.

By contrast a back three featuring two debutants in full-back Delon Armitage and Ugo Monye, together with Paul Sackey, took every chance to run the ball and did so to good effect.

The youthful half-back combination of Danny Care and Danny Cipriani, also showed plenty of promise.

Cipriani, who saw a delayed clearance-kick punished by a charge-down try, only gave himself “six out of 10” for his performance last weekend, which suggests he doesn’t need anyone to tell him to tighten up his game against the Wallabies, particularly in defensive situations.

Australia, under their Kiwi coach Robbie Deans, have reverted to the side beaten 19-14 by New Zealand in Hong Kong this month save for Hugh McMeniman replacing Dean Mumm at blindside flanker.

Hardened from their Tri-Nations campaign, it is a team sprinkled with seasoned performers and one which will fancy its chances of improving an Australian run of four defeats in their last five Twickenham appearances.

And it is their form, rather than their record at “headquarters” which has caught the eye of England captain Steve Borthwick.

“I think it is quite clear Australia have improved immeasurably,” Borthwick, still to convince some observers about his Test credentials, said. “Their pack is strong and they have shown that by winning away in South Africa and beating New Zealand.”

Deans meanwhile was expecting a well-rounded if tough contest.

“You’ve got two sides who like to play with the shackles off. It won’t be a frivolous game but it should be a game that will have everything,” he said.

Victory for England this weekend will set them up nicely for the visits to Twickenham later this month of the Springboks and the All Blacks.

Were England to beat all three southern hemisphere giants, they would assure themselves of a top four seeding for next month’s 2011 World Cup draw and stay away from hosts New Zealand in the pool phase.

Johnson, for whom the phrase “hardened pro” might have been invented, was not concerned.

“We haven’t talked about the rankings this week and we won’t talk about them,” he said. “A world ranking is not what motivates players ahead of a Test match against a side as good as Australia.”

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