Big weekend of rugby is in store for England! We all know the crunch match this weekend is England Australia so you’ll forgive me for focusing my attention on this one. The war of words has started well before the turf has been troubled and as we all remember, when we took a little trip down South in the summer we were welcomed (not) by an Aussie media that were looking at grinding the spirit out of our boys before we had even hit the ground, and for us to put in a shift that silenced those criticisers of our game was a very nice feeling indeed.
Anyway, it is time for them to pay us a little visit in our own backyard and overall we have been considerably more welcoming of the Strayans than they were of us. I think the only cross words we have had for them is that they have “some problems” with their scrum, whereas they’ve gone to town and started naming individual England players as cheats. Let’s be fair though, it is all posturing and what will really matter is what plays out when you have the grass beneath your feet, the ball in your hand, and the try line in the crosshairs.
Make no mistake, Australia are going to come at us hard this weekend, with their failure to overturn Ireland last weekend, their poor record against us this season and just the fact that it has been a pretty mediocre year for them on the whole, means that they are going to want to finish up strong.
For what it’s worth I don’t think a great deal of this game will be contested at the scrum. Both teams are playing excellent flowing attacking rugby at the moment and as long as the weather provides a stable playing surface, then I doubt this is going to turn into an arm wrestle at the set piece.
Having Jonny May back in the side is great for our attacking ability and his turn of pace is going to stretch the Australian defence the length and breadth of the pitch. He’ll need to be fast because the loss of the crushing strength that Billy Vunipola brings to the forwards will be sorely missed and while we might not be able to rely on him carrying metres like Billy, I’d expect Nathan Hughes to put a very good foot forward to cement his position in the mind of Eddie when selection day comes up for that number 8 position in future… at 19st and 6ft 5in, you’re still going to need an anchor to stop him.
Eddie has called for a physical affair from the England boys this Saturday and I genuinely think that they have both the power and the stamina to run any team to the bitter end at the moment. You can feel that step change in the guys, and where maybe before you could ask have they been doing enough off-field to perform on it, you are left in no doubt that every man is squeezing not just the 1% left in his training but the 0.1% now. Positions on this team are hard fought for and you need to be in absolute peak physical condition to get a place.
This the first time since the world cup that England have met Australia at Twickenham and I get the distinct feeling that there will be a certain degree of trepidation in the minds of the visitors as they know that England have won 7 out of the last 9 games played between the two and after being “buried” in the Summer test at home they certainly won’t be relishing the fact that not only are England in extremely good form at the moment, but the majority of the crowd will be behind the red rose come kick-off.
I am of course choosing a favourable result for the English this weekend and it would be an absolutely fantastic end to what has been a very successful 2016 for the boys. Long may it continue.