Monday 23 September 2019

Wounded Wallabies without Pocock, but Jones insists they remain a big hurdle for England

Eddie Jones is expecting the Wallabies to produce ‘their best peformance of the year against England’. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Eddie Jones is expecting the Wallabies to produce ‘their best peformance of the year against England’. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Jack de Menezes

the odds will rarely be stacked so heavily in England's favour. A lot happens in 15 years. Players come and go, head coaches change and World Cups change hands, but this Twickenham showdown does not feel like a normal meeting between old rivals in England and Australia.

Everything that could go against the Wallabies has: a disastrous 2018 saw them beaten at home in a series by Ireland for the first time since 1979, blown away by the All Blacks on all three occasions the two sides met, suffered defeat against Argentina in the Rugby Championship, and saw their decade-long unbeaten run over Wales go up in smoke at the start of the month.

A brief reprieve in defeating Italy last week soon evaporated as a sickness bug struck a number of their key players on Wednesday, before one of their best players, David Pocock, was ruled out with a persistent neck injury.

To top it all off, Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper - veterans of 200 cumulative international caps and members of the 2015 Rugby World Cup final side - breached team protocol by bringing three women that included Ashley-Cooper's sister-in-law back to the team hotel in the hours after the Wales defeat.

All signs point to Australia suffering further misery to cap off a nightmare year - one even worse than the 12 months that preceded a remarkable turnaround season that culminated in that World Cup runners-up spot in 2015.

And yet, you can never count an Australian side out of the contest when they face England.

Sure, they have not beaten their old rivals since one of their own, Eddie Jones, took the reins as England swept to three consecutive wins on their 2016 tour before back-to-back wins in the November internationals. But they have not been a million miles away.

Jones knows this only too well, given he used to be in their shoes.

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The 58-year-old Australian was at the helm for that fateful day in Sydney in 2003 when they lost the Rugby World Cup final, which gives him insight into what will motivate the Wallabies this afternoon.

"This is going to be their best performance of the year, the game they traditionally want to win against the old foe, the Mother Country," Jones said.

"It's at Twickenham, it's their last game of the year, (Will) Genia's 100th (appearance), they'll be up for it. So all previous form goes out the window.

"Australia-England is an old consistent rivalry for Australia and they like nothing better than to beat England at Twickenham."

Rather than fight fire with fire, as they did against South Africa and New Zealand, England will try to put the fire out by outsmarting the opposition.

Jones hopes he's done exactly that by leaving co-captain Dylan Hartley on the bench and starting with Jamie George at hooker, allowing the Saracens forward to explode out of the blocks before the experience of Hartley comes on to douse the flames and see out the match.

If they can do just that, they will have salvaged a 2018 that was in serious danger of unravelling after the summer following five defeats in eight Tests.

Defeat today will not ruin the November window but after going into the campaign needing to prove a point to get back on the horse, a loss now against opposition mired in turmoil would be an unwelcome jolt on the road to the World Cup. (© Independent News Service)

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