Angus Fontaine shares his thoughts on Australia’s 35-man squad and what they can expect to accomplish. The tone is one of cautious optimism.
Off the back of an improved Super Rugby season for Australian sides, Rennie’s squad agrees to fitter, faster and more experienced than last year. “I think we’ve added a little bit of steel to the group as well,” he reckons. Will it be enough to put England to the sword?
Rob Kitson has cast his eye over a much-changed visiting side that satisfies the cravings of many England supporters.
Not only will Courtney Lawes lead England into Saturday’s first Test against Australia in preference to Owen Farrell but Eddie Jones has also parachuted three experimental new caps into his matchday 23. It is as significant a cabinet reshuffle as English rugby has undergone for a while.
As expected, Covid has ruled out Jonny May, meaning England go in as listed earlier this week. Plenty of attention will fall on the playmakers with the recalled veteran Danny Care in the No 9 jersey feeding the Marcus Smith-Owen Farrell axis that looks set to determine England’s short-term future. Farrell of course is no longer captain, more on that to come.
Described by Angus Fontaine as, “a tough, fast, freewheeling outfit designed to run England ragged,” Australia’s line-up is a mixture of the old and the new, and in one case both. Michael Hooper continues to lead from the back of the scrum, and Quade Cooper remains trusted with playmaking duties. But it’s an unfamiliar pack featuring two debutants, including 33-year-old lock Cadeyrn Neville. In the backs, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete offer a formidable presence that is sure to be used to punch holes in England’s defence.
Plenty of familiar names are missing. Kurtley Beale is out injured, Reece Hodge and Matt To’omua were not selected in the 35-man squad, and James O’Connor didn’t make the 22. Taniela Tupou failed to recover in time from a calf injury but may feature later in theseries.
The Australian perspective is provided by Angus Fontaine. There is optimism, but for a country so used to winning, at everything, the Wallabies have done so little celebrating recently they risk falling off the map.
Australian rugby is hurting. Nineteen seasons without winning the Bledisloe Cup, 22 years without raising the Webb Ellis World Cup trophy and six years and eight games without a win over England. For a proud sporting nation, it’s not good enough. Many rugby fans have stopped wearing the gold jersey, and many sponsors have stopped believing in it. There may well be a golden decade coming for the code’s administrators with home soil World Cups, Lions tours and Commonwealth and Olympic Games, but none of it matters if the Wallabies aren’t winning.
Rob Kitson has furnished us with not one, but two scene-setters. In this piece the focus is on England’s energy and intent.
Everyone knows Jones is trying stuff – and doubtless keeping other stuff back – with a view to next year’s World Cup but that priority appears to be blurring the focus on the here and now. What English rugby could do with, to borrow a more contemporary cricketing analogy, is a go-get-em blast of unaffected Brendon McCullum-style fresh air and less fear of failure. If England lose this forthcoming series so be it. More important is that they give it a real rip.
While this column reflects on how poor England recently performed against the Ba-Bas and how much Jones and co still have to get right.
The reality is that Jones is still searching for a physically dominant Test-quality center not named Manu and still seems uncertain about his best options at scrum-half and in the front five. There would also be fewer post-Barbarians alarm bells ringing had England finished the Six Nations with a flourish. Or if Australia were not showing some signs of a revival.
Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of the first Test of England’s tour of Australia, or as Nadine Dorries might call it, the Challenge Cup final. Kick-off at Perth’s Optus Stadium is 5.55pm local time, which is 7.55pm AEST / 10.55am BST.
This is a wide open series overflowing with context, sharpened by the proximity of the World Cup. For England it features a coach under pressure and the coronation of a new captain, with little time to alter course before France 2023. While for the Wallabies, Dave Rennie was appointed over two years ago but there remains a feeling his side is still in transition.
It is England’s first southern hemisphere tour since the 2018 trip to South Africa, and there will be much to learn. As Rob Kitson writes: “Not since their World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand in 2019 have they registered a real statement win away from Twickenham.”
For the hosts it’s a shot at redemption after suffering a 3-0 whitewash the last time these sides met on Australian soil back in 2016. In all, the Wallabies are on an eight-match losing streak to England, with that record extending to 12 defeats in 14 matches stretching back to 2010. However, victory in Perth would see the Wallabies leapfrog England on the world rankings.
Along with bragging rights and World Cup momentum, the two nations will compete for the newly christened Ella-Mobbs Cup. After previously battling for the Cook Cup, the prize has been renamed after Indigenous Australian and Wallabies great Mark Ella and the former England winger Edgar Mobbs, who died while serving his country in the first world war.
Stick around because we have plenty to get through before kick-off. Correspondents Rob Kitson, Gerard Meagher, and Angus Fontaine have been very busy.
If you want to join in the conversations they have begun, or you have any other thoughts about tonight’s match, the series, or anything rugby
(thanks for the reminder Secretary of State) union, drop me an email or send a tweet to @JPHowcroft.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism