By Neil Leverett
- England and Australia meet in Oita on Saturday for a place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-finals
- Eddie Jones’ men look to win first knockout match since 2011
- Beaten 2003 World Cup finalists Wallabies seeking revenge for 2007 quarter-final defeat in Marseille
OITA, JAPAN – With just eight teams left in the competition, England and Australia meet in 2019 Rugby World Cup quarters-finals on Saturday in Oita.
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Old enemies collide in Oita
After a sporting summer dominated by England and Australia on the cricket field, this weekend rugby union takes centre stage for the Anglo-Australasian battle, as the two meet in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals in Oita on Saturday.
With Eddie Jones‘ men coming into the game as Pool A winners – having in some part topping the Group by default due to Typhoon Hagibis – England avoided a potential meeting with neighbours Wales, but arrive here this weekend having yet to be truly tested this World Cup.
The Wallabies meanwhile having lost a titanic tussle with the Welsh, were made being to toil by a physical Fijian side and have 80 more minutes in their legs. But that may yet come into play as tournament experience in Japan, in particular with Oita’s likely sweltering conditions on Saturday.
As the two old foes lock horns once more with a semi-final berth at stake in Yokohoma, the storied rivalry is set to play out another chapter in the Land of the Rising Sun – not least the epic 2003 final in Sydney – with both sides looking to be at full strength.
England bank on Billy; Ford benched
As the Rose play their first game in a fortnight – remarkable by tournament standards – England come into the clash with suggestions they may be under-cooked with a relative lack of game time in Japan, however on the flip-side will come into the quarter-finals fresh at the very least.
Head Coach Jones – in charge of Australia on that memorable night at the Telstra Dome in New South Wales 16 years ago – faces arguably his biggest match of his England stewardship thus far, and makes a number of risk-reward changes to the XV that beat Argentina in a tempestuous Tokyo two weeks ago.
With George Kruis, Joe Marler both dropping to the bench in favour of Courtney Lawes and Mako Vunipola, perhaps most surprising George Ford is named as a replacement to face the Wallabies, with Henry Slade favoured at centre, with skipper Owen Farrell moving to his natural fly-half berth.
Billy Vunipola, who was an injury doubt after being forced off due to an ankle knock against the Pumas is expected to be fit, which could explain Ford’s omission, considering the Leicester Tigers’ man has played all three of England’s games in Japan, and has looked a more assured kicking option than Farrell.
Jones may be looking to simply out-muscle Australia, in particular Samu Kerevi in the breakdown, and as Jones stated to BBC Sport, defence is likely to play a vital part in Saturday’s blockbuster clash, where he believes England will have the edge.
“Australia defend a certain way – we believe these three players can trouble their defence, and defensively we feel like it’s a pretty strong 10-12-13 combination. We know Australia are a high possession team, they are a high phase team and that’s how they want to play.
“And so there’s going to be a lot of defending in that area, and we think those three guys are well equipped to handle it.”
Cheika’s Petaia gamble
His opposite number Michael Cheika equally has made the tough choices to face the side he has beaten just once as Australian Head Coach – albeit the most meritorious one at Twickenham four years ago, to knock the then hosts out.
Most notably, Cheika has opted to move winger Jordan Petaia to centre for what will be the game of his fledgling career thus far, with the Queensland Reds man holding just three caps to his name after facing the Georgians last time out.
Will Genia is preferred to Nic White at scrum half, with David Pocock and captain Michael Hooper switching to the back row. Kurtley Beale has passed concussion precautions and will continue at full-back.
Conveniently, it could be the duel between Ford’s replacement in Slade and Petaia, as almost the key battle that may decide both possession stakes and the battle to dictate the game in Oita that determines the World Cup semi-finalist.
Wallabies’ revenge or Rose redemption?
Jonny Wilkinson‘s drop-goal heroics aside, 2003 was the pinnacle of England-Australia clashes, but not their most recent meeting in Rugby World Cups. Having met six times before for the William Webb Ellis Trophy, both sides have tasted defeat and victory on the grand stage in equal measure.
Four years ago it was heartache for Stuart Lancaster‘s men who were forced to exit the tournament with tails between legs, after consecutive defeats to both Wales and the Wallabies ended their involvement on home turf, courtesy of Bernard Foley‘s brace.
Prior to that however, in 2007, the teams met at the same stage during 2007’s World Cup in France, when in a wrought, tension-filled meeting at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, England as defending champions edged a 12-10 win to reach the last four.
Despite the Rose putting on a superb forward display, Lote Tuqiri went over for the game’s only try, but it was again Wilkinson who was the bane of the Wallabies, with every point of England’s tally coming from the boot of the Newcastle Falcon, as Brian Ashton‘s charges ground out the win.
Regardless, revenge is on the menu Oita this weekend, but the question is what form will it take? Will England bloom under the weight of pressure, or will the Wallabies bounce to successive World Cup knockout wins, with Jones suffering a similar fate to predecessor Lancaster?
England face Australia in the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals at the Oita Stadium in Oita, Japan on Saturday, kick-off 8:15 am UK time.
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