Much at stake as England, Australia resume rivalry
There’s far more at stake than just bragging rights between two long-time rivals in the rugby test between England and Australia on Saturday.
The winner of the year-ending match at Twickenham will gain a psychological edge ahead of their next meeting — in 10 months’ time in the group stage of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. And both teams will also be desperate to end an underwhelming set of November internationals on a high after each losing two of their first three games.
“If we lose, we must view this as a poor campaign,” said England captain Chris Robshaw, whose team has already been beaten by New Zealand and South Africa this month. “That disappointment would be tough to take for all the guys.”
The Wallabies started the autumn international by beating Wales in coach Michael Cheika’s first competitive game in charge. But they have lost to France and Ireland over the past two weekends.
“It’s the last game of our year and it’s really important we finish on a good note before we pick up together again prior to a rugby World Cup,” Australia center Adam Ashley-Cooper said. “Off the back of two disappointing weeks, we certainly want to respond.”
England has found Australia the most accommodating of the three southern hemisphere giants in recent years, winning three of their last four meetings.
Yet there has been a hesitancy about England’s play this month and the team is widely perceived to have regressed for the first time in Stuart Lancaster’s three-year reign.
Hampered by a string of injuries, Lancaster has also seen a number of key players struggle for form. One of those, Owen Farrell, was dropped from England’s starting lineup for the first time since June 2012 for the Australia game.
Having started at flyhalf against the All Blacks and Springboks and inside centre in Saturday’s 28-9 win over Samoa, Farrell’s lack of form has been evident and raised concerns over his fitness after a thigh injury earlier this season.
George Ford will start for the second straight game at flyhalf and Billy Twelvetrees has been recalled at No. 12 for his first start this month.
“He accepted it well,” Lancaster said of Farrell. “He’s a great professional and he’s very team-focused. He accepted that George had played well (against Samoa) and that he’s not on top form.”
In other changes from the Samoa game, flanker Tom Wood and hooker Dylan Hartley came in for James Haskell and Rob Webber.
Australia also made three changes, with Ashley-Cooper shifting from wing to center to replace the injured Tevita Kuridrani (ankle), Rob Horne recalled on the wing and Sean McMahon replacing Luke Jones on the blindside flank.
Lock Rob Simmons was selected to earn his 50th test cap — one of six Australian forwards to achieve that milestone in 2014.
Australia’s players will wear black armbands in a mark of respect after the death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes on Thursday, two days after being struck on the head by a ball while batting in a Sheffield Shield match.
“We’ve got enough motivation this weekend, but when we’re wearing the black armbands, we’ll be thinking of him and his family,” Australia captain Michael Hooper said.
“It’s the kind of news you never want to wake up to. All of us this morning checking our phones: for us as a team it’s a pretty somber mood.”
England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Brad Barritt, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (captain), Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Dave Attwood, David Wilson, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler. Reserves: Rob Webber, Matt Mullan, Kieran Brookes, George Kruis, James Haskell, Richard Wigglesworth, Owen Farrell, Marland Yarde.
Australia: Israel Folau, Henry Speight, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Toomua, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper (captain), Sean McMahon, Rob Simmons, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper. Reserves: To be announced.