By Jake Goodwill
- England take on Australia Down Under in three match series.
- England have never won a test series in Australia.
- There are a number of key clashes that could be decisive in the outcome of the series.
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – England make the long trip Down Under in an attempt break their duck of zero test series wins in Australia, but will their Six Nations win give them renewed confidence?
England have never won a tour in Australia. Yet despite this dire record, England go in to the series with an opportunity to win a tour Down Under. Since Eddie Jones took over, England have won a Grand Slam and remain unbeaten in six matches. England are full of confidence and expect to win the series.
However the Wallabies are ranked second in the world after an excellent World Cup performance. Under Michael Cheika the Australian side has gone from strength to strength and are slight favourites. Both sides back themselves to win which makes the tour so exciting. Here are five key clashes which will dictate who comes out on top in Brisbane on Saturday.
Rob Simmons vs. Maro Itoje
Under the tutelage of Steve Borthwick England have developed the most formidable lineout in Europe. The work of George Kruis and Itoje has been vital to this. Itoje has excelled at pinching opposition ball which has limited opposition attacking opportunities. Simmons will be in charge of running the Australian lineout and will be key if Australia are to maintain possession. Simmons is an experienced operator with 60 caps and he will relish the challenge that England pose.
Itoje will also be a handful in the loose as he is a dynamic ball carrier and is one of England’s best at slowing down and turning over ball in the ruck. The lineout is one area where England are expected to be dominant and therefore Simmons and debutant Rory Arnold need big performances to level the playing field.
Michael Hooper vs. James Haskell
Just as England are expected to dominate the lineout Australia undoubtedly have the edge at the breakdown. In Hooper and David Pocock Australia possess two world class openside flankers. Hooper will be dogged and aggressive at the breakdown. It is the job of England’s Haskell to compete with him.
This is not only in terms of slowing down Australia’s ball but also limiting the effect that Hooper and Pocock have. Haskell is not an out and out fetcher and is up against two. It is definitely an uphill battle for England but if they can achieve parity at the breakdown England will have dealt with Australia’s most potent weapon. However if they fail to counteract Hooper and Pocock it could be a tough match.
David Pocock vs. Billy Vunipola
Although Pocock and Vunipola are very different players they are both of paramount importance to their respective sides. Pocock dons the number eight shirt but in reality operates as a second openside. However the quality of Pocock, Hooper and the underrated Scott Fardy gives Australia’s backrow an excellent balance. One of their foremost tasks will be to chop down the rampant Vunipola.
He had a phenomenal Six Nations and consistently put England on the front foot. It will be a massive test for Vunipola and this tour will reveal whether he is a world class player or still developing. If Australia cope with him then England will struggle to get over the gain line. The England pack faces the difficult task of keeping Pocock and Hooper off the ball. The battle of the backrows will be crucial to deciding who wins this game.
Bernard Foley vs. Owen Farrell
Bernard Foley has performed exceptionally against England in recent clashes scoring a number of tries. The Waratahs fly half had a strong World Cup and will look to carry on his good form. His ability to attack the line caused England problems. However, without the guiding hand of Matt Giteau outside him, he will have to take on a greater role in game management. Samu Kerevi has been picked at inside centre which leaves Australia without a second play maker in midfield.
This leaves Foley with a greater responsibility. Farrell has been shifted from inside centre to his usual fly half position. He has been the form fly half in Europe this season and the Saracen will provide England with control and intelligent game management. Crucially his running game has also improved vastly. Foley has the edge in creating space and challenging the line but Farrell is superior at controlling the game. The two contrasting styles of fly half will provide an intriguing clash and a vital one to the outcome of the series.
Israel Folau vs. Mike Brown
Folau is one of the world’s premier backs and is a nightmare for defences. He is a phenomenal athlete with a skill-set that differentiates him from many players around the world. His background in the Australian Football League (AFL) gives him an edge in aerial battles. Expect Australia to put up high balls on the England back three with Folau sent up to compete.
Brown will have the tough task of competing with Folau for the ball. Brown is strong under the high ball and it will be an interesting contest. The Harlequin, who is set to win his 50th cap in Brisbane, has been under pressure due to the scintillating form of Alex Goode. Brown needs a dominant performance and there is no better opportunity than beating Folau in an aerial contest. However that is a task in which few have succeeded. Brown will also want to match the threat with ball in hand that Folau possesses. If England can stop Folau making metres they will go a long way to neutralising the Australian backs.
The first test in the tour between Australia & England kicks off at 11am BST.
Jake Goodwill is a History student at the University of Bristol who covers Cricket and Rugby Union for Britwatch Sports. Find him on twitter @jakegoodwill1. Check out his blog HERE
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