There is nothing the Aussies like more in the world than beating us at sport. Pommie bashing almost qualifies as a sport itself down under and I love that. This sporting rivalry is like no other and maybe because as countries we have so much in common - and with a shared heritage we end up like siblings always wanted to get one over each other.
My brand Raging Bull launched last week in Myer - one of Australia’s biggest department store chains - and what has taken me aback is the generous reaction to a pommie bringing his clothing range down under! My old foe Lote Tuqiri, who scored the opening try in the World Cup final in 2003, was this time on my team and helping me with the launch. What an amazing bloke he is – we got on famously and the banter and laughs were like being back in the dressing room.
The Australians are unbelievably competitive and as a country of relatively small population, they still seem to be able to produce a stream of talent even in rugby union which is played by only a small percentage. Back in 2003 the Australian fans, who only followed rugby union with half an eye on it, came out in their thousands for the final decked in green and gold. They got so close to witnessing their team snatching the Webb Ellis trophy out of the hands of the favourites.
Come Saturday evening in Japan, abrasive Wallabies head coach Michael Chieka will have pre-installed the ‘Everyone’s against us’ mindset and have his troops itching to fire into white shirts. We now have our own equally abrasive Aussie coach who was on the other side back in 2003 and Eddie Jones will understand that England need to absorb the opening salvos and fire some shots themselves. Looking at England’s recent stats we do well when we take an early lead so I suspect mastermind Eddie has some plays up his sleeve that he has kept under wraps.
Selecting your team for these big games is where head coaches are ultimately defined. Both Chieka and Jones have made some big calls with Eddie catching everyone on the hop by dropping the midfield he used throughout the pool stages and putting Farrell back at 10. Is this mind games from Eddie? Was he planning this mid field combo all along for the knockout stages but wanted the opposition to waste time analysing Ford-Farrell? Knowing Eddie there is a good chance!
With the power of Tuilagi at inside centre and the playmaking skills of Slade at 13 I do like that line up and it did very well indeed for us back at the start of the Six Nations in Dublin. As much as George Ford is a magnificent distributer of the ball and is brave in defence players do target his channel and often you can make yards by running at him.
As for Chieka he has decided his curveball would be throwing in a 19-year-old rookie at outside centre. This young lad Jordan Petaia is quite something and maybe isn’t quite the gamble it appears. With the Kerevi alongside him who is making metres for fun they just might prove to be England’s undoing.
I also like the look of the Australian scrum. Not sure too many would believe this would ever be a Aussie strength but that front row is right up there as one of the best at this World Cup. England have bought Mako Vunipola back for his start for months which is risky and have gone for Kyle Sinckler at tighthead over multi capped Dan Cole. With Jamie George at hooker that is a very dynamic and exciting front row but has to o hold its own at scrumtime and not allow the Wallabies to use the scrum as a weapon to get penalties.
Where do I see England getting an edge? Probably in playing a structured game that includes plenty of kicks to turn players such as man mountain Koribete around.
The set of forwards Eddie has selected are everyone of them tough and powerful yet explosive, dynamic and with good handling. That pack is probably aiming to play at such a fast tempo they give the Wallabies no time to think. Both Itoje and Lawes will by hybrid locks/backrowers, and it means there will be turnover seekers at every breakdown. Mako also is pretty nifty in getting over the ball so the hope is the Wallabies breakdown kings Pocock and Hooper are nullified.
My prediction for the game is a tight win for England because knowing the Australians they will up their game and play a blinder against us!
Ireland has on paper the nightmare quarter final against the indomitable All Blacks. Yes - New Zealand will be overwhelming favourites but upsets do happen and Ito be honest would it be that much of an upset? Ireland is a bloody good team and in World Cups past both Australia and France have knocked the All Blacks out of the competition. Ireland of all teams know how to beat them and just perhaps this will play on All Black minds and if the game gets tight Ireland have nothing to lose whilst the All Blacks have everything.
For me Wales have unfairly not been one of the proper contenders for the trophy. Not sure why when you look at the side and the coaching set up along with the style of play. Wales prioritises defence so you know this is a team made for knock out rugby. When nerves are jangling and there are only a few points in it Wales are equipped to be the team that comes through. Im backing them for a semi final spot.
For me the absolute dream World Cup final would contain both Wales and England. Not only the first time for an all northern hemisphere final and it would also mean a British winner whoever comes through. Win win.