After a narrow defeat to France at the Stade de France, the Wallabies will be hoping to close out their tour with a win over England at Twickenham. The two sides have swapped nearly identical scores at this same spot in the last two years, and it would surprise few if it followed that pattern once again this year. England of course were happy to return to the win column a week ago against Samoa, but will be desperate to claim a more significant scalp before the year ends.
Stuart Lancaster has retained the same match day squad but made three changes to the run-on side. Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood return at the expense of Rob Webber and James Haskell, and Owen Farrell finds the bench at last with Billy Twelvetrees stepping in at no12. Hartley and Wood are being given another opportunity after failing to impress against the All Blacks, albeit for different reasons. Wood has just looked unusually off the pace recently, while Hartley paid the price for his senseless yellow card. Haskell can feel a bit hard done by after playing well against Samoa, and Wood will have to justify his recall fairly quickly.
The relegation of Farrell to the bench is the most significant change. Lancaster’s backline selections have left much to be desired, and more than a few pundits have criticized his recent inconsistency. Farrell had a poor outing last week, and his benching is more than justified, but how much impact Twelvetrees will have remains to be seen, particularly without an attacking foil outside him, with Brad Barritt’s limited offensive abilities not likely to bring out his best.
Michael Cheika has reacted to the struggles in Paris by selecting virtually the same side. Luke Jones failed to take advantage of his opportunity and has given the no6 jersey back to Sean McMahon, while injury to Tevita Kuridrani has deprived the Wallabies of their most potent line breaker. Adam Ashley-Cooper moves in to his preferred outside centre slot, with Rob Horne brought in to fill up the vacancy on the wing.
The Wallabies were beat up in the tight by the confrontational French pack, and aren’t likely to by offered any respite by the English. The lineout is an area they could compete at, but England aren’t far off the world’s best in that department either, and the recall of Wood offers them a third legitimate target at the back to set up their very effective mauling game. Expect the home side to lean heavily on that mechanism, particularly in the early going.
While Ashley-Cooper is a class operator, he is no Kuridrani in terms of attack, and Horne doesn’t inspire much terror either. Israel Folau and Henry Speight will have to be the game breakers, which becomes challenging if they don’t see the ball. George Ford and Ben Youngs will have to be very careful with their tactical kicking, as the counter attack looks the most dangerous point of difference for Australia.
Look for the English forwards to drown the tempo early, frustrating the Wallabies and aiming to force errors. As the game breaks and the likes of Quade Cooper arrive, England will have to some serious defending, but they have the horses to get the job done and should just about pull this one off by a reasonably narrow margin. The trend continues as England take this one by 6 points.
ENGLAND vs AUSTRALIA
Saturday, November 29, 14:30 GMT, London
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (FFR)
Assistants: Nigel Owens (WRU) & Pascal Gaüzère (FFR)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)