Wednesday 29 January 2020

England determined to lay marker against Aussies

Mick Cleary

ENGLAND go in search of credibility as much as they do the Cook Cup today at Twickenham, pursuing a sense of status that they lack. There has been promise in their play, notable triumphs in Paris and at home to Ireland, but there is still a sense that they are no more than England have invariably been this past decade – a middling side but far from a world-beating one.

There is no fear factor about England, no quake in the legs as opponents approach Twickenham. England are in their changed burgundy strip. A change of fortunes against the southern hemisphere is overdue.

Victory over a beleaguered Wallabies team would start that process, much as it seemed to be doing two years ago when Chris Ashton splashed into the sporting consciousness. How that promise fizzled out in an orgy of drink and dwarves in New Zealand.

This set-up appears to be built on firmer foundations. But it needs a signature moment, a win that will ignite the feel-good factor. Only victory over one of the southern superpowers does that.

So much is in England's favour that there will be a degree of anxiety running through supporters. England are well prepared, not especially bedevilled by injury and had a good loosener against Fiji. Australia, meanwhile, have been thumped in Paris and are beset by injuries.

Defeat would certainly set the Stuart Lancaster project back on its heels.

This is when his players have to seize the moment. While it is true that they lack experience, 242 caps to roughly double that in the Wallabies, they have already come through some significant moments, particularly during the summer tour to South Africa.

Lancaster dismisses the notion that England teams of late have been in awe of the southern hemisphere, singling out the 14-14 draw in the third Test in Port Elizabeth as a turning point.

"Taking on South Africa in their own backyard in the way we did has given the players the self-belief that they can go toe-to-toe with these sides," said Lancaster. "There's no sense at all that they lack self-confidence going up against the southern hemisphere."

After last weekend's underwhelming experience, it is good that there is an edge around Twickenham, a bristling air of expectation.

Both teams need something of note: England to define their new generation, Australia redemption. The day will shape perceptions one way or the other. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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